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Chinese Leader Dines With Bill Gates

ALLISON LINN, AP | April 19 2006

SEATTLE - After a swanky dinner with the world's richest man, Chinese President Hu Jintao turns his attention to America's largest exporter, whose sales to China could help ease tensions over a growing trade gap.

Hu, who dined Tuesday night at the home of Microsoft Corp. Chairman Bill Gates, was invited to tour Boeing Co.'s Everett plant on Wednesday, just days after Chinese officials confirmed a commitment to order 80 Boeing 737 jets, in a deal valued at $5.2 billion at list prices. The order has yet to be finalized, and airlines typically negotiate discounts.

Boeing sees China as one of its most important future markets, estimating that the country will require 2,600 new airplanes over the next 20 years.

The big Boeing deal is one of several purchases the Chinese made recently as officials try to ease tensions over the massive trade gap between the two nations. It's one of several issues President Bush is expected to raise when Hu heads to Washington, D.C., later in his four-day U.S. tour.

Hu's Thursday summit with Bush will cover a broad agenda, from China's much-criticized currency and other trade policies, to its aggressive search for oil and its positions on the developing nuclear programs in Iran and North Korea.

Touring Microsoft's suburban Redmond campus earlier Tuesday, Hu said he admired what Gates had achieved. He also sought to reassure Gates that China is serious about protecting intellectual property rights, a key concern for the company as it battles widespread piracy of its Windows operating system there.

"Because you, Mr. Bill Gates, are a friend of China, I'm a friend of Microsoft," Hu said through a translator. "Also, I am dealing with the operating system produced by Microsoft every day," he added, to laughter.

Gates responded: "Thank you, it's a fantastic relationship," and then quipped: "And if you ever need advice on how to use Windows, I'll be glad to help."

In a whirlwind visit, Hu — accompanied by Gates, company CEO Steve Ballmer and an entourage of Chinese dignitaries — saw some business technology demonstrations and toured Microsoft's Home of the Future, which features experimental technology.

Hu began his American visit Tuesday in Everett, about 30 miles north of Seattle, where he was greeted by a local kung fu club and a handful of ribbon dancers from a Seattle elementary school.

Hu also was greeted by government and business leaders, including Gov. Chris Gregoire and Starbucks Corp. Chairman Howard Schultz.

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 state's third-largest export market, while Washington imported more than $16 billion worth of products from China in 2005.

Demonstrators both in support and opposition to Hu lined the streets near his downtown Seattle hotel. Supporters waved Chinese and American flags.

Members of the spiritual movement Falun Gong, condemned by the Chinese government as an evil cult, staked out all four corners around the hotel Tuesday to protest treatment of the movement's followers in China.

At the entrance to Microsoft's campus, protesters waved signs in Chinese and English that read "Stop web censorship" and "Release all political prisoners."

Following the meeting at Microsoft, about 100 guests were invited to Gates' home for a dinner Gregoire hosted there. The guest list included executives from Costco Wholesale Corp., Weyerhaeuser Co., Boeing and Amazon.com Inc.

The visit came as 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.

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