By Assunta Ng
Northwest Asian Weekly
When Chinese President Xi Jinping picked Seattle as his first stop to land in America recently, several U.S. cities reacted with disbelief and jealousy, and numerous governors felt slighted. Why Seattle again? Didn’t Xi’s three predecessors visit Seattle before? Shouldn’t Xi experience other U.S. cities?
Suddenly, Seattle—one of the northern corners of the U.S. and farthest away from Washington D.C.—and often dismissed as not a major player in national politics, was getting international attention. Now that China has hailed Xi’s trip a success, it also realizes that Washington state played a big role in his achieving his agenda. It has proved that our state can handle any heads of state with an ambitious itinerary. The world has cast Seattle in an affirmative light, creating a win-win for both the host and China.
But aside from the economic benefits, what are some of the unexpected gifts for our state?
Getting Xi’s ears
At the dinner honoring Xi at the Seattle Westin Hotel, Gov. Jay Inslee sat next to him. What did Inslee tell Xi?
“During dinner, we spoke a lot (with the help of a translator), and I was able to make the case directly for the need to settle a trade dispute that is jeopardizing hundreds of jobs in Moses Lake. I’m sure President Xi didn’t know about REC Silicon’s operations in a small Eastern Washington town. But he listened and he said he would ask his trade minister about it. I’ve pressed REC’s case through lots of channels, but I’m glad I had the chance to talk face to face with the president.”
Xi’s visit provided “the opportunity to speak to him directly about issues that directly impact Washingtonians,” said Inslee.
So did business and government officials who had a rare chance of having the ears of many high-level Chinese officials during the reception and dinner, making it an international event. High-powered representatives from Ford Motor Company, Harvard University, Walt Disney, and Alibaba flew from out-of-state to attend. The interaction of U.S.-China officials would lay the seeds of future projects or for solving conflicts.
Seattle and Washington as a strategic stop
It was in Seattle that Xi signed a $3.1 billion dollar agreement with Washington state and other states to develop clean energy to help developing countries to fight climate change, in addition to the 300 Boeing aircrafts China bought.
Not only did Xi select our city, Seattle was used as China’s strategic meeting place with other U.S. officials, including U.S. and Chinese governors, and business leaders.
Later, Xi stopped in Tacoma, and invited 100 students from Lincoln High School to visit him in China next year.
Several agreements were also signed between Chinese and American businesses and government officials, and the University of Washington and Tsinghua University. These were all tied in with Xi’s trip to ensure his presence was not just about pomp and show, but would produce concrete results.
The economic gain was huge for hotels. According to Inslee’s office, there were more than 2000 people from China in Seattle during the President’s visit. Simultaneously, the Chinese Ministry of Commerce held a series of events involving business leaders from China. Several Chinese companies also organized large delegations in Seattle and Bellevue for meetings.
According to Jenne Neptune, president of the Seattle Hotel Association, said, “The city ran at 87% occupancy the week of Xi’s visit. That is up 9.5% from the previous year, while we have been averaging an increase of 4.3% up year over year for the last 28 days.”
David Bachman, a China experrt and UW professor of Henry Jackson International Studies, said, “The real gains of Xi’s visit are most likely to manifest themselves in increasing Chinese investment–both in and by firms and by individuals. Alibaba’s North American headquarters is likely to draw other Chinese firms, and its presence here was highlighted by the Xi visit. But this will be very hard to measure. There is already growing Chinese investment in the Seattle region, and so trying to figure out what ‘bump’ Xi’s visit might add to the current trends is very hard to do.
“Moreover, if the Chinese economic growth rate continues to slow, one would expect investment to decline. His visit, plus the Reuters ranking of the University of Washington as the fourth most innovative university in the world may also increase Chinese applications to the UW… A number of Chinese students and their families have been significant investors in property and have bought cars and other brand name products.”
Perhaps, the big gain for Washington state, is “positive publicity,” said Gary Locke, former governor and U.S. Ambassador to China.
“There were literally hours of coverage in China on Seattle and Washington state,” said David Postman, Inslee’s spokesman, “dramatically increasing the awareness of Washington among those in China and around the world.
“Media around the world covered the visit and showed that Seattle is a place where global business and government leaders want to visit, can do so safely, and that we respect people’s rights to speak their minds, disagree and protest.”
The publicity is priceless.
“RESPECT is what we are getting,” said Alan Alabastro, a photographer covering Xi’s welcoming dinner and reception at the Seattle Westin Hotel. As many U.S. officials were unhappy that our state had hit the jackpot, Alabastro said now they know what our state can do.
Compared to other states, our state is in an advantageous position to “influence China,” said Alabastro, since we have Starbucks and other global businesses headquartered in Seattle, doing business in China. Starbucks is planning to grow 5000 shops from 1700 in China.
Postman said the governor had “received positive feedback from our Chinese counterparts. There were the sort of stresses you’d expect in an event of this scale, but we didn’t hear any complaints. The feedback from U.S. guests was also positive. The only negative feedback was about traffic problems, which is understandable for an event of this scale.”
Had the public known that Xi’s anti-corruption stand in China has generated enemies and assassination attempts since 2013, (according to several Chinese- and English-language Asian journals,) it might be understood why China wanted to close the freeway even in rush hours so as not to take any chances! Can you imagine San Francisco or L.A. closing their freeway for Xi’s entourage to drive through? They probably won’t and can’t.
For those governors that complained Xi favored our state, that’s nonsense. Xi visit didn’t land on us on a silver platter. Inslee made a special trip to China to invite Xi. And the whole state rallied behind his move, including Locke and former governor Chris Gregoire also making trips to China to show our sincerity. What it showed—our state, city, and country’s government and businesses can put aside political differences, and collaborate together, to make things happen.
Did those whining governors do any work at all? Gary Locke organized a similar schedule for former Chinese President Hu’s visit in 2006 in Seattle. China’s trust toward our state and Locke is an incredible gift.
The message is clear: Despite policy differences, four Chinese leaders Xi, Deng Xiaopeng, Jiang Zeming, and Hu Jintao agreed eye to eye that Seattle is (was) not to be missed when traveling to America. A powerful testament for the Emerald City, Seattle is comfortable for Chinese. It is also a historical city with unusual milestones in US-China relations.
So next time you hear Chinese buying Seattle’s real estate, increasing tourists, opening an office or a factory, and coming to study in Washington state, you wouldn’t be surprised!
If not our state, where? (end)