President of the People’s Republic of China, Xi Jinping, speaking at a welcoming dinner at The Westin, in downtown Seattle, Washington on September 22, 2015. (Courtesy National Committee on United States-China Relations and Alan V. Alabastro)
Last Tuesday morning I was present as member of the welcoming committee for the official arrival ceremony for Present Xi Jinping of the People’s Republic of China.
The leader of 1.3 billion people landed in an Air China 747 at Everett’s Paine Field for a two-day stay in the Seattle area prior to his departure for Washington, D.C., for a state visit hosted by President Obama.
A welcoming committee had been quickly formed when word arrived that Seattle was the American city where President Xi would first spend time prior to his departure to our nation’s capital.
The welcoming committee’s co-chairs were former Washington governors Gary Locke and Christine Gregoire. Other members included executives from such companies as Boeing, Microsoft, Alaska Airlines, and Starbucks. Governor Jay Inslee was among the small group present at Paine Field for President Xi’s arrival, along with Congressman Rick Larsen and the U.S. ambassador to China, Max Baucus.
● While I did little more than shake the hand of President Xi on the red carpet after he and his wife deplaned, it was an interesting time.
Some observations: 1) President Xi is in his early 60s and projects a solid, commanding image.
2) Boeing was in charge of the arrangements at Paine Field and did an excellent job, even providing for a sunny day. Maybe its attention was properly focused, since during President Xi’s visit Boeing announced over $38 billion in aircraft sales to the PRC.
3) After the ceremony at Paine Field President Xi and his extensive motorcade traveled south on I-5 to his hotel, The Westin, in downtown Seattle. After about ten minutes I departed Paine Field intending to follow this same route, but was stymied for many minutes by a wall of trucks, automobiles, and buses all at a dead stop on the interstate due to the official visit I had just had a small part in initiating.
4) That night I attended a banquet in honor of President Xi in the Westin’s grand ballroom. Over 700 people were present, with the main speakers being Dr. Henry Kissinger (who is still alert at age 92) and President Xi. I sat at a table co-hosted by J.P. Morgan and Underwriters Laboratories.
5) Security was extremely tight with several successive checkpoints for display of credentials and identification prior to entry. Local police and national security agents of both countries were piled atop each other.
6) The only protest I saw was a few blocks from the Westin where followers of Falun Gong were peacefully objecting to human organ harvesting, which they claimed is rampant in the PRC.
● President Xi’s visit to the United States would ordinarily have dominated the national news, but the expected and unexpected happened. First, Pope Francis, not unexpectedly, stole the show with his high profile visit to Washington, D.C., New York, and Philadelphia. Then on Friday, Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner announced his decision to leave Congress
● Speaker Boehner’s unexpected act will have both policy and personnel impacts on the Pacific Northwest. On the policy side, it is now even more remote that comprehensive immigration reform will be enacted during the 114th Congress and, for those interested (i.e., Boeing), the Ex-Im Bank, is less likely to be resurrected anytime soon.
As for personnel, several close political allies of the Speaker, including Representative Greg Walden (Oregon), and Representatives Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Dan Newhouse, both of Washington state, will be re-assessing their institutional and political positions.
Mr. Walden is now chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee; Mrs. McMorris Rodgers is Republican Conference Chairman; and Mr. Newhouse is a member of the Rules Committee, a powerful committee traditionally close to the Speaker.