4/19/2006 -- The setting, Microsoft's ultra-wired "Home of the Future", was faintly evocative of the American National Exhibit in Moscow in 1959 showcasing color televisions and other world-beating US technology.

But when Chinese President Hu Jintao got together with Microsoft chairman Bill Gates, there was nothing like the famous "kitchen debate" in which then US vice-president Richard Nixon and then Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev held a spirited discussion about the relative merits of the two superpowers' technological prowess.

Instead, President Hu got red-carpet treatment at the software giant's headquarters. In turn, he described himself as a "friend of Microsoft" and a great admirer of Mr Gates. President Hu made the Seattle area his first stop on a three-day tour that will include a meeting with President George Bush tomorrow in Washington, DC. Trade tensions are expected to take centre stage.

President Hu's Air China 747 touched down yesterday in Everett, at the complex where Boeing produces the jumbo jet. He and his wife, Liu Yongqing, were greeted by a parade of North-West dignitaries, including Washington Governor Christine Gregoire and Gary Locke, her predecessor, who was the nation's first Chinese-American governor.

But President Hu's entourage was also dogged by several hundred protesters, some dressed in traditional silk outfits of blue and pink, who gathered within half a block of his Seattle hotel and banged drums and issued chants calling on China to get out of Tibet and free political prisoners. Members of Falun Gong, a spiritual group, also demanded President Hu stop what they described as torture and persecution of the group's followers.

At Microsoft, a truck halted within 120 feet of the building where President Hu had his tour and unfurled a large blue banner proclaiming: "New China Rises When CCP Is Gone". The acronym refers to the Chinese Communist Party. President Hu did not acknowledge the protesters.

At Microsoft, President Hu entered a conference centre decorated with Chinese and American flags, and red banners with yellow Chinese characters that said he was "warmly welcome" at Microsoft. So many reporters were at the event — about 125 — many from Chinese news organizations, there was no way to accommodate all of them for the tour itself, officials said.

In brief remarks as President Hu left with Mr Gates, he said China would work to "protect intellectual property rights". This is a reference to software and film piracy, a major US-China trade sticking point. Bootleg versions of Windows and major Hollywood films are widely available in China.

(By Sam Howe Verhovek, Redmond, Washington)