WA China Watch Digest Special!

Survey: Was Seattle being used by Xi Jinping to counter Washington D.C.?

Xis arriving in SeattleBy Wen Liu   Oct. 12, 2015

On Sept. 19th, a couple days before Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived in Seattle as his first stop on his state visit to the United States, The Seattle Times had this headline: "Once again a Chinese leader uses Seattle as counterpoint to D.C." So were we being used?

To a get a sense on that, WCWD conducted a one-question survey with a number of our China hands, watchers and practitioners, asking each of them this same question: Do you agree with that Seattle Times headline and why?

The following are some of the answers in the order they were received. You are welcome to add your own in Disqus.

Larry Fuell, Director, Global Affairs Center, Shoreline Community College; former diplomat to China:
"I think that recovering from jetlag has as much to do with Chinese leaders stopping in Seattle as any perceived (by the Chinese or by Washingtonians) strategic impulse. I think there is coordination between the private and public sectors in the U.S. and in other countries before and after these visits."

Bill Glassford, The Commerce Bank of Washington; past president, Washington State China Relations Council:
"I don’t disagree with the headline, but I think it can be a bit misleading. I think Seattle was selected for a number of reasons, the warm reception only being one of these. I think that our geographic location as a resting up place en route to D.C.; the presence of Boeing for a headline grabbing purchase of airplanes; warm invitations from the Governor and Gary Locke also played roles. I believe President Xi could have picked for a number of U.S. venues as a counterpoint to D.C."

Mark Wen, VP, Int'l Medical Services, Seattle Children’s Hospital; president, Washington State China Chamber of Commerce:
"I did not read the article, but I kinda agree with the headline. The current U.S.-China relationship is tense! With the first stop of Xi's visit at a much friendlier place with welcoming people here..., it softens the harsh image of Xi. Seattle is a good balance to D.C."

Sidney Rittenberg, Sr., Rittenberg & Associates; director, Washington State China Relations Council:
"No, I would not agree with that headline. Seattle, as a port of entry for official Chinese visitors, is not a counterpoint to D.C., but a favorable gateway from which to approach D.C. Washington state benefits greatly from the China trade as well as from Chinese cultural input, and Chinese visitors routinely receive an enthusiastic welcome here, before proceeding to the raucous partisan atmosphere and serious political talks in D.C. The standing ovation for President Xi at the welcoming banquet in Seattle was the longest that I have ever experienced. Both Xi’s policy speech and our Secretary of Commerce’s address were forthright and friendly, with Xi giving a clear statement of China’s strategic positions and Secretary Pritzker emphasizing the shared interests between our two countries while clearly stating the differences that exist and suggesting paths towards their gradual resolution. We Seattleites are proud to be the gracious gateway for Chinese visitors."

Joe Borich, Borich Consulting, PLLC; former president/executive director, Washington State China Relations Council:
"I agree with it a little bit. I do not think it was accidental that Xi's only public speech that discussed a broad policy perspective was delivered in Seattle. China's leadership views Seattle as a welcoming place, one that in the continental US is physically closest to Beijing. There are also rich and broad economic ties between China and Washington State, as well a dense fabric of cultural and social relations. To say, as the Times headline implies, that Xi and his predecessors have come to Seattle only to offset the pain and strain of having the visit the "Other Washington" is a bit too facile and frankly cute to survive rigorous examination. China's leaders on each one's visit to the U.S. had a scripted agenda for the visit and had done plenty of homework to know what had to be done and with whom to move that agenda forward. A compelling argument could perhaps be made that among Deng Xiaoping's goals for his 1979 visit was to win the hearts and minds of U.S. citizens. But that was precisely the right moment on Sino-U.S. relations for China's leader to make such an overture. The atmospherics for the 1993, 2006, and 2015 Chinese leadership visits were hardly conducive for similar "hearts and minds" agendas. So let's give credit to China's leaders and recognize that the stop in Seattle offered a break in their travels of which they were happy to avail themselves, but accept that they never lost sight of where American political power is centered – I mean the ‘other Washington.’"

Elmer Wagner, retired instructor, Grays Harbor College; with teaching experience in China:
"I think it's very understandable. Both Hu Jintao and Xi Jinping felt very comfortable in Seattle. They were among friends, people who were eager to establish trade with a major trading partner. There were no embarrassing questions about human rights violations or aggression in the South China Sea, questions that would certainly be posed in Washington D.C. I think the Chinese leaders felt very comfortable and relaxed in Seattle, whereas tensions would be palpable in Washington D.C."

Bart Fite, Director, Mandarin Associates; president, China Club of Seattle:
"I don’t know if ‘counterpoint’ is the right word. More like a counterweight, an attempt to tip the scales and focus towards business relations and away from politics. But I more or less agree."

Jim Young, Founder, Century Law Firm, PLLC; vice chair, Washington State China Relations Council:
"I can't tell what the China side was thinking - so I won't speculate. But what I know is that if we focus on speculations and the negative, we could miss an important opportunity for Washington state. After years of efforts and evolution, we finally have become one of the most well-known and respected U.S. states in China. It's a valuable opportunity for all Washingtonians. We should focus on what we can do to make Washington state and Washingtonians’ lives better, using our distinguished advantages with China. Ultimately, opportunities won't be there forever for us. There will always be differences at the national level. So my view is let's just do the best we can do for Washington, regardless of what the China side or the U.S. side (at the federal level) was thinking prior to President Xi's visit."

Michael Rawding, Technology/Media/Telecom, Spencer Stuart; chair, Washington State China Relations Council:
"Yes I agree with that statement. I think that the Chinese government sees that the connections to Seattle and the Pacific Northwest are of an enduring nature, are diverse and inclusive of commercial, academic, cultural and strong people-to-people ties and have proven to be mutually beneficial. We are lao pengyou you could say, and there is a comfortable feeling that both sides have developed. Being so far away from Washington D.C. enables an atmosphere that is warm and not politically charged. I also think that the government sees Seattle as a very successful and sustainable place with a growing diverse innovative economy and great natural beauty and that is something that they aspire to as well."

Bruce Ramsey, retired editorial writer, The Seattle Times:
"I have been spending my time in libraries reading newspapers of the 1890s and have not been following the news. When Xi came here I thought, 'It's really special for Seattle that Chinese presidents always stop here. All the time I was growing up, no world leaders ever came to the Pacific Northwest. Maybe he's coming because he knows he will get a warm welcome here. Maybe also because he can get off the airplane and get over some of the jet lag — not get to Washington, D.C., too quickly.'"

Michael Craig, retired international business consultant; past president, Seattle Chongqing Sister City Association:
"I do absolutely agree that Xi used Seattle as a counterpoint prior to his D.C. visit. He knows there is some rough ground to plow in D.C. and he wants to emphasize the importance of U.S./China business. It is a reminder to Obama's blundering and unpredictable foreign policy that the U.S. has much to gain from a friendly economic working relationship with China. It is also a reminder that he has access to U.S. business leaders independent of D.C. influence."

Shaosong Ou, Professor, Foster School of Business, UW; director, Washington State China Relations Council:
"I agree with the headline. I do feel that President Xi wants to, and does so too, make contrast between the visits to the two cities. The perception in China reflects this well: the Seattle stop makes an otherwise routine and boring trip much more interesting. Most discussions on the internet concentrate on his meeting with all the tech tycoons."

Dennis Bracy, CEO, U.S.-China Clean Energy Forum; past chair, Washington State China Relations Council:
"Here are some quick thoughts: Rather than a counterpoint, Seattle’s role in Xi Jinping’s visit was a showcase of 'the other side of the story.' The U.S.-China relationship is complicated, nuanced and multifaceted. The business, personal and cultural connections with China were on center stage in Seattle, and that’s totally appropriate. Were we 'used?' Absolutely not. We knew what we signed up for, and are proud of our many connections and honored to be selected (many of my California friends are green with jealousy). Congratulations to our host committee, Governor Inslee, Ambassador Locke and Bill Gates for a job well done."

Mike Fowler, President, Asia Access, Inc., director, Fuzhou Trade Project, World Trade Center Tacoma:
"I have noticed articles with this inference . . . drawing a contrast between the two Washingtons. I believe, however, that our state contributes to efforts in D.C. and there are limitations on the distinction. My job, for example, is to promote economic development, and I have developed friendships with colleagues and counterparts in China. These solid relationships will help us overcome some of the political issues that they are dealing with in D.C. Also, it's worth noting that it appears that there are business-related issues that we are dealing with and that came up here. Some of these came up in D.C. as well. It's not that it is all pleasantries here and hard work there."

Pat Davis, retired Port of Seattle Commissioner; past president, Washington Council for International Trade:
"I disagree with the implication in the headline that President Xi Jinping was using Seattle when he stopped here recently on his way to D.C. While it certainly was in the Chinese President's interest to stop here, the reality was that Seattle and Washington state's business, cultural and political interests strongly encouraged President Xi Jinping to visit. A great deal of publicity prior to his visit, and many welcoming events in Seattle and Tacoma evidenced this. Significant ties exist between China and Boeing, Microsoft, hundreds of other Washington state businesses, cultural groups, families and educational and health care institutions in Washington state. America's first Ambassador of Chinese descent to China lives in Seattle. In 1979 the first ship to call in the U.S. when trade opened with China--the Liu Lin Hai--came to Seattle. For these and many other reasons President Hu Jintao was also eagerly welcomed to Seattle in April 2006 on his way to a chilly reception in D.C. While the Seattle visits were undoubtedly beneficial to both Chinese and Washington state interests, they did not mean that that Seattle was being 'used.'"

Carson Tavenner, Executive Director, The Tai Initiative; member, National Committee on United States China Relations:
"I do not agree with that headline. ‘Uses Seattle as…’ is the American analysts’ portrayal of Xi’s reason for picking Seattle, not the actual reason of the CPC and others who guided the decision. There are many complex factors that go into such a decision, and the local tendency is to think more highly of oneself than is actually the case. I do think he needed to show a good face to America upon first arriving, and I also think that between the NCUSCR (National Committee on United States-China Relations) and Gary Locke’s work behind the scenes that there must have been quite a great deal of discussion about when/why/how to show up in America and make the best impression before getting to harder things. Seattle was obviously the decision that became final. He probably also considered Iowa again, or San Francisco, or maybe Houston. Would those have been ‘counterpoints’ to D.C.? I don’t think so. The other thing I don’t like about the title is the word ‘counterpoint.’ That implies WA is in a debating dialogue with D.C. about China. It isn’t."

Bill Stafford, Senior Advisor, Nyhus Communications; founder/past president, Trade Development Alliance of Greater Seattle:
Why Seattle? Seattle allows a time adjustment before D.C. meetings. Korea’s Presidents do this. Second, Seattle is more friendly to China because of the economic ties and allows good TV shots at Boeing and other companies. It highlights a positive set of relationships from students, to marine port and airport to a range of services. Finally, it offers a platform to give a policy speech laying the groundwork for the D.C. or U.N. meetings. Too bad he did not visit the Chinese Garden.

(For more information on major events in Washington state-China relations, go to WA China Chronicle.)