China’s president will begin U.S. visit at Paine Field

EVERETT — The last time a president of China came to town there was a party going on at Paine Field.

It was April 2006. President Hu Jintao was feted at a luncheon in a decked-out Future of Flight museum. He delivered a rousing speech to 600 people and joined then-Gov. Chris Gregoire in a coffee toast with Starbucks mugs.

That day he also toured the Boeing Co.’s 747 assembly line, tooling around the world’s largest building by volume in the back of a modified golf cart. He spoke to 5,000 Boeing workers, warmly embracing one who came on stage to present a company baseball cap as a gift.

Alan Mulally, the CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes at the time, ended the ceremony with an exuberant shout of “China rocks!”

This week’s visit by President Xi Jinping will be much lower key as most of the party is moving to Seattle’s Westin Hotel.

Gregoire said Friday no one in Snohomish County should feel this president feels any differently toward the region than his predecessor.

“Make no mistake, I think it’s extremely important he’s landing at Boeing and visiting Boeing,” Gregoire said, noting China is the company’s leading customer.

Gregoire is a leader of the host committee involved in working out details of the visit. She said Xi told them where his delegation wanted to land.

“He chose Paine Field,” she said. “We had suggested Boeing Field because it would be easier access and less traffic getting to Seattle. They said, ‘No.’ They wanted Paine Field, that was their clear preference. I think that says a lot about him.”

President Xi is to arrive at Paine Field on Tuesday morning where he will be met by Gov. Jay Inslee and an entourage expected to include U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and executives of Boeing, Microsoft, Starbucks and Alaska Airlines.

Xi won’t stand around long.

He’ll head to Seattle where more of the area’s civic and business leaders will be waiting. Also the president will meet privately with Inslee and the governors of California, Oregon, Michigan and Iowa. And there’s a gala dinner where he will make a major policy speech.

Wednesday he’s back at the Boeing plant in Everett. Company officials say he’ll tour the factory and meet with workers but are keeping most details under wrap — including whether to expect an announcement of any airplane orders.

On hand will be Boeing Chairman Jim McNerney, President and CEO Dennis Muilenburg and Ray Conner, the president of Renton-based Boeing Commercial Airplanes.

Xi is also set to visit Microsoft’s main campus in Redmond and Lincoln High School in Tacoma, and have dinner with Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates.

On Thursday he returns to Paine Field to board his 747 for a flight to Washington, D.C. for meetings with President Barack Obama and a state dinner Friday.

Larsen, one of the chairmen of the U.S.-China Working Group in Congress, praised Xi for planning treks outside Seattle during his stay in Washington state.

“It is a sign that he recognizes we’re more than one city, that there’s a lot going on and he wants to see,” he said.

If Larsen gets a chance, he said there are a couple issues he’ll try to raise with the president.

One is encouraging him to continue economic reforms in China to open up that country’s markets to foreign products. He wants to stress the value of China and the U.S. forging a united front to deal with climate change. And the matter of cyber security needs to be addressed as well, Larsen said.

While those subjects and more are expected to be discussed, Xi’s stop-over in the Puget Sound region is perceived as a safe harbor before he journeys to the nation’s capital to face a far more contentious crowd.

Obama will be under pressure to confront the leader about the Chinese cyber attacks on businesses and government agencies.

Rep. Suzan DelBene, D-Wash., who serves on the House Judiciary Committee, said the president has the power to levy sanctions against those behind cyber attacks and “should act appropriately regarding the recent effort to pilfer the intellectual property of U.S. companies,” she said. “President Xi’s visit presents an opportunity for diplomatic discussions on this important issue.”

Xi will be the fourth consecutive Chinese leader to visit Seattle — Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin and Hu before him all came to the region due to the importance of the state’s economic and cultural ties with China.

China is Washington’s largest trading partner, with more than $29 billion of trade in 2014. Nearly a fourth of Washington exports go to China. Other governors envy the relationship, Gregoire said.

Though Xi’s visit to Snohomish County will be lower profile than Hu’s, his daily trips in and out of the area could create high-profile traffic messes.

As a head of state the president will receive full protective treatment of the U.S. Secret Service. Federal authorities will work in concert with Everett police, the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Department and the Washington State Patrol on security and traffic control.

Drivers can expect tie-ups as there will be rolling closures of I-5 and 405 as Xi’s motorcade travels through the region. On-ramps and local streets will be blocked as well.

Authorities haven’t — and probably won’t — release precise times and routes, for security reasons. That’s why the state Department of Transportation urged highway travelers to check the agency’s online traffic maps to avoid the most congested areas.

Better yet, try to work at home those days to avoid getting caught in a back-up, DOT spokesman Travis Phelps suggested.

The visit will tax the resources of local and state law enforcement agencies.

“We will incur costs as we have to assign staff to assist the Secret Service and those costs are not reimbursable,” Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman Shari Ireton said in an email “If there is any overtime, we are working to make sure it will be minimal.”

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com

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