Chinese President Xi Jinping and first lady Peng Liyuan
Seattle - AFP
Chinese President Xi Jinping began his first state visit to the United States on Tuesday in the West Coast hub of Seattle, aiming to woo American businesses and take the edge off a leery White House view of the Asian giant.
Xi will set the tone of his visit in meetings and a keynote speech to leaders of states such as Washington that do substantial business with China, as well as the heads of top companies with huge China interests such as Boeing and Microsoft.
With the Obama administration increasingly at odds with Beijing over its territorial claims in the South China Sea, cyber theft of US business secrets and alleged discriminatory business practices against US investors in China, Xi could have his best chance to clear some air while in Seattle.
But he also has to balance that with a demonstration to the public back home that the United States takes his country seriously as an equal among global superpowers.
In an interview published Tuesday in the Wall Street Journal, Xi depicted China and the United States leading the world shoulder-to-shoulder, with both common and competing interests.
"Together, China and the United States account for one-third of the world economy, one-fourth of the global population, and one-fifth of global trade," he said.
"If two big countries like ours do not cooperate with each other, just imagine what will happen to the world."
- CEO charm offensive -
Xi's speech in Seattle later Tuesday will be his only major policy address while in the United States.
He will follow that with a roundtable meeting early Wednesday of top US and Chinese corporate chieftains aiming to underscore the centrality -- to Beijing, at least -- of trade and investment to the relationship, while downplaying political issues.
He will also make trips to Boeing and Microsoft, as well as a Seattle high school he visited years ago as a lower-level official.
In lavishing attention on Seattle, he follows in the footsteps of three other Chinese presidents: Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao.
"We know the value of international trade and we know the value of exports to China and how many thousands of good-paying jobs it supports here in the state of Washington," Gary Locke, a former Washington governor and ex-US ambassador to China, told AFP.
- 'Meeting is the message' -
With little hope of settling major political differences during a summit later this week with President Barack Obama, in Seattle "the meeting is the message," said Christopher Johnson, a former CIA China analyst now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
While few doubt Xi's power in China and his determination to elevate its status on the global stage, he nevertheless has to convince his hosts -- and the politicians running in the 2016 presidential election -- that he can work with them.
US businesses are worried about Beijing's increased support for its own companies when they compete head-to-head with American investors.
And many are concerned that Beijing does not have a firm hand on the sudden downturn of its economy, which has fueled turmoil in global financial markets.
In the Wall Street Journal interview, Xi stressed the temporary nature of China's downturn, likening it to a large ship sailing in stormy seas, and insisted the country was moving forward quickly with needed, market-oriented reforms.
"We give equal and fair treatment to all market players, including foreign-invested companies in China," he also insisted.
The stealing of US business secrets by Chinese hackers will be a top issue in Seattle and in the US capital.
The Obama administration is reportedly weighing placing punitive sanctions on some top Chinese officials to get Beijing to take action over the problem.
Showing that it is now taking that issue seriously, earlier this month one of China's most senior security officials, Meng Jianzhu, came to Washington to discuss it with the White House.
In his interview, Xi argued that cybersecurity is an equal concern for Chinese and American companies, and that Beijing does not support cybertheft.
"The Chinese government does not engage in theft of commercial secrets in any form, nor does it encourage or support Chinese companies to engage in such practices in any way," he said.
Xi will also have to be careful not to supply more ammunition to US politicians, especially those in the 2016 White House race, who see bashing China as an easy way to sound tough to American voters.
Human rights -- especially China's tough new national security law being used to crack down on political and social dissent -- will be in focus.
The White House on Tuesday will host non-governmental groups likely to be hit by tough new Chinese security laws that one US official said has them worried about their long-term presence in the country. Everything from universities to rights groups would be affected should the draft law go into force.
The visit has already come under a minor cloud after news that a US businesswoman, Sandy Phan-Gillis, has been held by Chinese security officials for six months over alleged espionage, according to her supporters.
From Washington, Xi heads to New York to mark the 70th anniversary of the United Nations.