Chinese President Hu Jintao To Visit Chicago

Chicago Mayor Richard Daley and city officials hope Chinese President Hu Jintao's visit is an endorsement of increased trade between Chicago and the world's most populated country. There are 30 Chinese companies in the Chicago area while 300 Chicago firms have a presence in China.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

President Obama hosted China's President Hu Jintao at a State Dinner at the White House last night, and the American president had some important news: The Chinese pandas at Washington's National Zoo will remain for at least five more years.

INSKEEP: That, of course, was one of the easier deals to make. It involved millions of dollars instead of billions or trillions, and the pompatus visit has not completely obscured the difficult relationship between the two countries. We got a glimpse of that yesterday as the two presidents held a press conference and in the moment, NPR's Rob Gifford will analyze President Hu's remarks.

MONTAGNE: The Chinese leader leaves Washington later today. He's heading for Chicago, his only other stop on this U.S. trip.

NPR's Cheryl Corley looks at how Chicago hopes to capitalize.

CHERYL CORLEY: President Hu's first official stop in Chicago will be a business meeting, and then a welcome dinner hosted by Chicago Mayor Richard Daley. No word on whether he's visiting Chicago's Chinatown. But Michael Moy(ph), eating lunch at Chi Cafe in Chinatown Square, says just about everyone knows President Hu will be here.

Mr. MICHAEL MOY: I think it's great. Oh, I hope they can bring us more business over here.

CORLEY: It doesn't hurt that Chicago is President Obama's hometown. But Chicago Mayor Richard Daley has put significant time and effort into cultivating a relationship with Chinese leaders. When he announced last week that President Hu would visit the city he said:

Mayor RICHARD DALEY (Democrat, Chicago): It is big deal big, big, big, big.

CORLEY: And he explains why it's so significant.

Mayor DALEY: We believe we can establish Chicago as a Chinese economic gateway to America.

CORLEY: While President Hu was in Washington, the White House announced China would purchase $45 billion in U.S. exports. That includes a 2007 order for 200 planes from Chicago-based Boeing. The White House says that deal along with others - for General Electric, Navistar and Honeywell - will support up to 235,000 jobs in the United States.

Even so, Northwestern University political scientist Stephen Nelson warns not to be too hopeful.

Dr. STEPHEN NELSON (Political Science, Northwestern University): At this point, China is a powerhouse for lower-skilled, manufactured products - things like textiles and - sort of basic machine parts. And the Midwest and the Northeast, we haven't been doing that for a long time.

CORLEY: So China, he says, has an advantage producing those goods. The visit by President Hu and other dignitaries, says Nelson, may be a signal that China will be more receptive to accepting the high-tech manufactured goods where the U.S. has an advantage.

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CORLEY: Tomorrow, President Hu will visit the Confucius Institute, a program which along with the Chicago Public Schools, teaches 12,000 kids across the city Mandarin Chinese. The Institute is located at Walter Payton High School. That's where several students were playing a Chinese version of "Simon Says" before taking a test. Fifteen-year-old Jockson(ph) Beard, already proficient in French and Spanish, has been studying Chinese for five years.

Ms. JOCKSON BEARD: Well, I figure China's rising very quickly, possibly above the U.S., and it's important to know the language if you want to build a business relationship.

CORLEY: Currently, there are 30 Chinese companies in the Chicago area, while 300 Chicago firms have a presence in China.

Benita Boettner, with the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, says U.S. and Chinese government and business leaders will hold a forum without President Hu tomorrow, and as many as 60 Chinese and American companies will sign a variety of agreements.

Ms. BENITA BOETTNER (Executive Director, Corporate and Diplomatic Programs, Chicago Council on Global Affairs): No one's tried to quantify yet - obviously -the impact of this visit other than to say that of course, it's hugely important to the region.

CORLEY: Ted Fishman, the author of China Inc., says the Chinese visit is a payoff that comes from Mayor Daley's close connections. Whether it remains a payoff, he says, is an open question.

Mr. TED FISHMAN (Author, China Inc.: How the Rise of the Next Superpower Challenges America and the World): The first kind of investment that foreign firms make in the United States are investments to acquire intellectual property from industry. So if the kinds of businesses China is interested in are the kinds it can export back to China and keep the production in China, then these kinds of relationships will be a mixed blessing.

CORLEY: Meantime, tonight several hundred Chinese Americans plan to welcome President Hu, and will gather outside the hotel where he will be honored. Protesters say they'll be there, too.

Cheryl Corley, NPR News. Chicago.

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