EVERETT — Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived in Washington on Tuesday for a visit to the U.S. that will include talks on how U.S. and Chinese experts and businesses can collaborate on nuclear energy, smarter electricity use and other clean technologies.
The visit comes a year after Xi and President Barack Obama announced their nations would cooperate to fight climate change.
The Chinese president’s Boeing 747-400 touched down at 9:04 a.m. at Paine Field in Everett. He was greeted by a long receiving line of dignitaries, including Gov. Jay Inslee, U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, former ambassador to China Gary Locke, Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson and China Ambassador to the U.S. Cui Tiankai.
“As America’s gateway to Asia, Seattle has enjoyed growing exchanges with China in recent years, which is typical of the overall mutually beneficial cooperation and friendly exchanges between the two countries,” Xi said in a prepared statement.
Locke cited the visit as an opportunity to strengthen those ties.
“This was an opportunity to showcase Washington state companies and bring a lot of benefits to Washington state,” Locke said.
Rep. Larsen said one of the hopes is increased opening of Chinese markets to products from the state.
Larsen declined to speculate on a potential announcement from Boeing.
“I do know that the meetings taking place here are signs that underscore relations between the U.S. and China,” Larsen said.
“U.S.-China relations right now are best characterized as a lot of hope and some hurdles,” Larsen added.
Xi is expected to make one or more significant announcements when he tours the Boeing plant in Everett on Wednesday. In addition to a rumored order for more planes, probably 737s, Boeing and China have been close to a deal to build a 737 finishing plant in China.
What that will mean for local jobs is unknown, with Democratic state Rep. Strom Peterson of Mukilteo lambasting the company for creating more jobs overseas while drawing tax breaks in Washington.
But Ray Conner, president of Renton-based Boeing Commercial Airplanes, sent a memo to employees Tuesday afternoon reassuring them that local jobs wouldn’t be lost as a result of such a deal.
“These discussions are at a sensitive stage, and I appreciate your support as we finalize what I hope will be a win for Boeing, a win for the Puget Sound, and a win for our stakeholders,” Conner wrote. “I want to assure you that agreements we may reach with our Chinese partners will not result in layoffs or reduce employment for the 737 program in Washington state.”
After a brief arrival ceremony, a motorcade departed Paine Field at 9:49 a.m. to take Xi to Seattle, disrupting traffic on I-5 for a while.
A crowd of more than 1,000 people had gathered outside the Future of Flight Museum waving signs, chanting and singing welcome in Mandarin. Banners in Chinese characters had messages including “Welcome” and “President, how are you?”
Sandy Ward, the director of sales and marketing for the Future of Flight, said 17 buses dropped off the well-wishers at about 8:15 a.m.
“For some reason, they thought the motorcade might come through the gate where we are,” Ward said.
The crowd blocked the intersection of 84th Street SW and Paine Field Boulevard until Mukilteo police arrived to herd them onto the sidewalks. They stayed until 10 a.m., after it became apparent that Xi’s motorcade had taken a different route out of Paine Field, she added.
Ward said she didn’t know who organized the group.
Xi delivered a policy speech Tuesday evening in Seattle, the first stop on his official visit to the United States. He discussed the poverty he saw in rural villages in his country as a younger man and how China’s rapid economic expansion had lifted millions out of poverty.
He said China would continue its policy of aggressive development to help more people “live a better life.”
He said China was a staunch defender of cyber security, but it had also been a victim of hacking.
Acknowledging that China and the United States don’t always see eye to eye on issues, Xi said China is ready to set up a joint effort with the United States to fight cyber crimes.
The issue of cyber attacks is a sensitive one between the two nations. American officials say hacking attacks originating from China are approaching epidemic levels, including the theft of millions of U.S. federal personnel records that American lawmakers have said was engineered by Beijing.
Xi is scheduled to visit Boeing in Everett, Microsoft in Redmond and Lincoln High School in Tacoma on Wednesday; then fly to Washington, D.C., on Thursday for a state visit with Obama.
Talks in Seattle among a handful of U.S. governors and six of their Chinese counterparts will include improving energy efficiency in buildings, modernizing electrical grids and commercializing renewable energy.
The governors were expected to meet privately with Xi later in the day.
The University of Washington and Tsinghua University in Beijing were expected to sign an agreement to collaborate on research related to clean tech. In addition, TerraPower Inc., an energy company founded by Bill Gates, will be entering an agreement with China National Nuclear Corp. to work together on next-generation nuclear power plant technology.
“These are the largest economies in the world, and we’re the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases, so improving cooperation and collaboration is really a necessity,” said Brian Young, Washington state director of economic development for the clean technology sector. “Second, it’s a huge business opportunity. Both sides recognize the opportunity for job creation.”
U.S.-China cooperation on climate-change has been a warm and fuzzy point of relations between the superpowers.
In November 2009, Obama and then-President Hu Jintao formalized a renewable energy partnership, including the establishment of clean-energy research centers focused on electric vehicles, cleaner coal and water energy programs.
Last November, Obama and Xi announced that the countries would work together on climate change, with China announcing it would try to cap its greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, or sooner if possible.
By contrast, hacking attacks on the U.S., said to be directed by Beijing, and China’s moves to assert its territorial claims in the South China Sea have been sore spots.
The trip comes at a time when China’s economic growth has slowed considerably, and when the communist nation is overhauling its economy to put more emphasis on consumer spending and less on exports and often-wasteful investment in factories, real estate and infrastructure such as railways and airports.
That shift will demand vast amounts of energy as China’s middle class expands, noted Tom Ranken, president of CleanTech Alliance, a Seattle-based trade association of companies and organizations with a stake in clean energy technology, including Boeing, the University of Washington and hundreds of others.
The need for China to curb its pollution is obvious to anyone who’s spent time in Beijing or Shanghai, he said.
“For an American going to those cities it’s quite stunning,” he said. “They’re ultramodern, and yet everybody has a story, including me, about going out Monday morning running and almost getting sick after about a half-mile from the air pollution.”
Some clean-tech firms in Washington, which relies largely on hydropower and where natural gas is currently cheap, may find markets and investment in China sooner than they might domestically, he said.
China invested a record $83 billion in renewable energy last year, according to the Frankfurt School’s Center for Climate and Sustainable Energy Finance in Germany.
“They see this as a huge business opportunity for the future, especially in solar and wind,” said Mikkal Herberg, research director for the energy security program at the National Bureau of Asian Research.
He said China also wants to be leader in nuclear energy.
The governors meeting with Xi include Inslee, Jerry Brown of California, Rick Snyder of Michigan, Terry Branstad of Iowa and Kate Brown of Oregon.
As Xi spoke Tuesday evening, protesters gathered near the downtown hotel he was staying at, objecting to the country’s policies in Tibet and other issues.