Chinese President Hu Jintao arrived in the Seattle area Tuesday to meet with business leaders eager for a bigger share of China's markets before he heads to Washington for talks with politicians wary of his nation's muscular stance in trade, energy and currency policy.
Hu began his trip in Everett, about 30 miles north of Seattle, where members of the Seattle Kung Fu Club and a handful of ribbon dancers from a Seattle elementary school welcomed him.
Hu told Gregoire he didn't choose Seattle simply because it's the closest major U.S. city to China.
"It is also because your state enjoys very good cooperative relations with my country," Hu said through a translator.
China is Washington's third-largest export market, while Washington imported more than $16 billion worth of products from China in 2005.
Hu has set an ambitious mission for his four-day U.S. tour. It comes at a time of substantial unease among American businesses, political leaders and the public about how China is using its new power.
His summit Thursday with President Bush will cover a broad agenda, from China's much criticized currency and other trade policies, to its aggressive search for oil and its stance toward nuclear programs in Iran and North Korea.
Demonstrators both in support and opposition to Hu line the streets near his downtown hotel. Supporters waved Chinese and American flags.
"Seattle is so close to Asia," said Ida Zhu, a Chinese-American businesswoman. "They cannot ignore China anymore."
Members of the spiritual movement Falun Gong, condemned by the Chinese government as an evil cult, staked out all four corners around the hotel to protest treatment of the movement's followers in China.
After meeting with Gregoire, Hu was headed to Microsoft Corp. to mingle with executives and take a tour of the software maker's "Home of the Future."
At the entrance to Microsoft's suburban campus, protesters waved signs in Chinese and English that read "Stop web censorship" and "Release all political prisoners."
Tuesday night, about 100 guests were expected at Gates' home for a dinner Gregoire was hosting there.
The menu featured such delicacies as smoked Guinea fowl with hazelnuts, spring radish and Granny Smith apples and filet of beef with Walla Walla sweet onions and Washington-grown asparagus.
The visit comes as Redmond-based Microsoft, after years of battling widespread software piracy in the potentially lucrative China market, is hopeful that things are changing. Chinese government officials say they are serious about cracking down on sales of illegal copies of Microsoft's Windows operating system, and some computer makers are pledging to ship more computers with legitimate Windows software installed.
Although analysts say it could be some time before the promised changes have a significant effect on Microsoft's sales, the pledges are a feel-good backdrop for Hu's visit with Gates and other business and government executives.
For Microsoft, the move is important because it sees China as a major market in which to increase revenues.