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Gates Hosts China's President

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Bill Gates had China's president over for dinner last night. The event brought President Hu Jintao to a mansion near Seattle, the home of the founder of Microsoft. It was the first day of a visit that will also bring the Chinese leader to the White House. Here in Washington, D.C., there is rising frustration over America's $200 billion trade deficit with China, which may explain why President Hu chose to start his trip in Washington state.

Here's NPR's Martin Kaste.

MARTIN KASTE reporting:

Bill Gates lives in one of the most technologically advanced houses in the world. And for last night's dinner, he had his hi-tech, invisible sound system playing.

(Soundbite of music)

KASTE: The music seemed to emanate from the trees themselves as 100 or so guests mingled on the lawn for predinner drinks. Many of them were execs with some of Seattle's biggest companies. Still, even for them, an invitation to Gates' $100 million house is a rare privilege. The dinner itself had the air of a chamber of commerce luncheon, as the host and the guest of honor traded toasts and praise of lucrative business ties between China and Washington State.

President HU JINTAO (China): (Through translator) Microsoft and Boeing are household names in my country, and Starbucks coffee shops have mushroomed in Chinese cities.

(Soundbite of laughter)

President JINTAO: (Through translator) If I were not serving in this office, I would certainly prefer to go into one of the coffee shops run by Starbucks.

(Soundbite of laughter)

KASTE: Besides the free endorsement for Starbucks, President Hu came bearing some impressive deals. His government is promising a crackdown on China's rampant software piracy, something that has led several computer makers there to promise to buy hundreds of millions of dollars worth of Microsoft software to install on their new PCs. Also in advance of President Hu's visit, Chinese airlines agreed to buy 80 new 737 jets from Boeing, a deal worth about $4 billion.

Right now, Washington state is probably the only state in the Union running a trade surplus with China. Former governor Gary Locke, himself a Chinese American, credits what he calls Seattle's longstanding ties to China.

Mr. GARY LOCKE (Former Governor, Washington State): Some interesting tidbits: back in the 1870s, almost 15 percent of the population in Seattle was Chinese.

KASTE: What Locke fails to mention is that the good people of Seattle ran most of those Chinese out of town in 1886. But things are more cordial now. David Bachman, a China scholar at the University of Washington, says President Hu is well aware that the yawning trade deficit is causing tension in Washington, DC, a tension the Chinese seek to defuse by drawing attention to all the software and airplanes they're buying in Seattle. Bachman says Washington State is about as friendly a venue as Hu Jintao can find to make his case.

Professor DAVID BACHMAN (China Scholar, University of Washington): It's a win-win situation. You shouldn't see us as a threat. It will be all about cooperation, and so on.

KASTE: You sound skeptical.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Prof. BACHMAN: No, I think that sincerely does reflect what the Chinese leadership wants. I don't think that it's going to get the scales to fall from the eyes of congressmen and senators.

KASTE: But even in Seattle, there is unease over trade with China. Connie Kelliher is the spokesperson for the Machinist's Union at Boeing. She says of course she's glad to see the company selling so many new planes to China. But she says the union can't help but notice how every new model contains more and more parts from overseas, including now, parts from China.

Ms. CONNIE KELLIHER (Spokesperson, Machinist's Union, Boeing): Well, in the last 10 years, we've definitely seen a stepped up offloading, which is a huge concern to us for jobs. And also, we have a concern of Boeing losing control of their product, as more and more of their technology and more and more parts are coming from overseas. And, in China's case, the concern is that if they gain enough aerospace technology, that they would eventually start their own aerospace industry rather than buying the Boeing planes.

KASTE: And that's no small concern here. If you take Boeing airplanes out of the equation, Washington State joins every other state in running a trade deficit with China.

Martin Kaste, NPR News, Seattle. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Martin Kaste is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk. He covers law enforcement and privacy. He has been focused on police and use of force since before the 2014 protests in Ferguson, and that coverage led to the creation of NPR's Criminal Justice Collaborative.