4/19/2006 Seattle -- Gamely donning a Boeing baseball cap and mingling enthusiastically with local business executives, President Hu Jintao of China said Wednesday that his nation and the United States "enjoy extensive common interests" and could avoid major problems in their relationship if they "avoid politicizing" the issues that divide them.
Hu, on the second day of his first visit to the U.S. as China's leader, continued a charm offensive directed at commercial interests and offered an overview of economic relations that broke little new ground but displayed a prodigious memory for statistical data.
In a lunchtime address to 600 local officials and business leaders at a Boeing plant in Everett, Wash., Hu, only occasionally consulting his notes, recited the number of fixed-line telephone users in China (740 million), the installed capacity of nuclear power plants there (30,000 megawatts), China's export volume in 2005 ($1.4221 trillion) and the number of foreign-invested enterprises that have set up shop there since 1979 (530,000, including 49,000 linked to the United States) as examples of the boundless opportunities the two countries share.
He will meet President Bush at the White House today. While their talks are likely to cover a variety of topics, including the Iranian nuclear program, religious freedom and energy policy, Hu mainly took aim at a recent surge of protectionist pressure in Congress and defended the mutual benefits of open trade.
He cited research conducted by the American Chamber of Commerce in Beijing and Morgan Stanley, the investment bank, that he said underscored how trade with China was overwhelmingly beneficial to the United States.
"According to Morgan Stanley, in 2004 alone, high-quality yet inexpensive Chinese goods saved U.S. consumers $100 billion, and trading with China created over 4 million jobs in the United States," he said. "The fast-growing bilateral business ties have delivered great benefits to our peoples."
Hu acknowledged that some problems existed in ties between the countries, calling them "hardly avoidable." But unlike the Bush administration, which has laid out concerns about China's military spending, currency policy and quest for oil in considerable detail, Hu offered mostly oratorical platitudes.
He did not signal that he planned to reach major new accords with Bush. He stood firm on China's management of its currency, repeating the now-standard line that Beijing intends to keep the exchange rate "basically stable," even as he promised to move toward greater flexibility down the road. The Bush administration and congressional leaders have said the yuan is greatly undervalued and gives China an artificial trade advantage.
"China and the United States are fully capable of settling the problems that have occurred in the course of business growth and keeping their business relations on a sound track," Hu said. Earlier in the day, he met a group of Chinese and U.S. former officials and scholars who were convened in Seattle to discuss Chinese-U.S. relations and China's rising power.
Although the participants included former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, former Secretary of Defense William Perry and many other notables from both countries, Hu delivered a few remarks about China's "peaceful development" strategy and did not engage in any dialogue, participants said. At the Boeing lunch, he selected two written questions from a pile submitted by people in the audience, both of which turned out to be requests for him to expand on his vision for bilateral ties.
As he did at Microsoft on Tuesday, Hu turned on the charm when talking about China's enthusiasm for Boeing products. He sounded at times like a Boeing salesman, rattling off statistics about past deliveries and current orders for Boeing planes, the number of Boeing aircraft Chinese airlines now fly, 542, and the amount of money China has spent buying Boeing planes since President Nixon's historic visit in 1972, $37 billion.
"Boeing is a household name in China," Hu said. "When Chinese people fly, it is mostly in a Boeing plane. I'm pleased to say that I came to the United States on a Boeing plane." Hu actually arrived in Seattle on Tuesday and flew to Washington, D.C., on Wednesday from Paine Field, Boeing's private airport. Alan R. Mulally, president of Boeing's commercial-aircraft division, introduced Hu to a group of 5,000 Boeing workers in an event that had the aura of a pep rally. After Hu made a glowing tribute to Boeing's tradition of innovation, Mulally said simply, "China rocks."