Gary Locke: Contentious talks ahead for Chinese president in both Washingtons

Sep 21, 2015, 9:31 AM | Updated: 10:46 am
President Xi will land in Washington state on Tuesday morning for a three day trip, before he trave...
President Xi will land in Washington state on Tuesday morning for a three day trip, before he travels to Washington D.C. to meet with President Obama. (AP)

The Chinese president’s visit to Seattle isn’t going to be all Ivar’s clam chowder and Mariners games.

Heated discussions over various points of contention will be on the menu for Xi Jinping and the American business leaders he is meeting with, former Washington Governor Gary Locke told Seattle’s Morning News on KIRO Radio.

Related: SDOT say stay at home or telecommute during president’s visit

President Xi will land in Washington state on Tuesday morning for a three day trip, before he travels to Washington D.C. to meet with President Obama.

“He’s going to hear from [American] business leaders, and not just from the tech center, about a lot of the concerns that American and foreign companies have about doing business in China,” Locke said.

“Issues like cyber security, issues like an un-level playing field, concerns over intellectual property rights, patents, trademarks, and so forth,” he said. “This is a great time for American CEOs to directly convey their concerns about what is happening in China … They may be in a more low-key manner, but they will be conveyed.”

After leaving his role as Washington governor in 2005, Locke eventually became U.S. ambassador to China from 2011-14. He’s become deeply apprised of issues facing the Chinese region and relations with the United States.

“Some of these tensions have only escalated [since I was ambassador], or there are more concerns about activities of China in the territorial seas in the South Pacific, and the crack down on civil rights advocates, lawyers, dissidents, even the press, and clearly the issue of cyber theft has gained even greater urgency,” Locke said, noting that President Obama is likely to address matters during Xi’s visit.

“You’re going to have frank, very candid, blunt discussions and messages conveyed by President Obama to the Chinese president during his visit,” he said. “Because of these disagreements, significant disagreements, it is important for our two leaders to meet face-to-face. There is no substitute for candid, brutally honest discussion.”

It’s a bit like when The United States National Security Adviser Susan Rice visited China to discuss controversial concerns, Locke notes. That, in turn, prompted a visit to the United States by a Chinese security official to continue that conversation.

“The press reports that the discussions were very heated and contentious, but it’s important that the Chinese leader hear this directly from President Obama,” Locke said.

One such discussion covers the efforts of China to build man-made islands in the South Pacific Ocean, a move that has been received as contentious by neighboring countries.

“They believe that it is historically part of China’s territory going back thousands of years,” Locke said. “The United States takes no position on who actually owns those islands, or whose waters they truly are. We want to make sure they are resolving a peaceful diplomatic fashion. We are urging all sides to avoid any types of acts that could be provocative and could lead to greater tensions and jeopardize the free flow of international trade and goods and navigation of the oceans.”

But the issue extends beyond simply making new land masses. It rises to a level that President Obama will likely take note of.

“We are very concerned about the buildup of these islands where they are building air fields and basically turning them into military bases,” Locke said. “We think that’s very, very provocative and could only lead to escalating tensions among all the different parties. That will also be a topic of discussion with President Obama. I’m sure he will raise that.”

Despite those hot topics, a relationship with China is important for the West, specifically Washington state where the economy is heavily tied to the country.

“We both benefit from the trade relationship. China is, in fact, America’s largest expert destination outside of North America. And China is our number one destination for our agricultural exports. So hundreds of thousands of jobs in America depend and are supported by those exports and trade with China, and that is certainly true here in Washington state,” Locke said.

“Washington is America’s leading exporting state to China, supporting some 90,000 jobs here from Boeing workers to cherry workers, our farms and machinery and everything else,” he said.

The Chinese president’s visit won’t entirely be all heated discussions and business. While in town, Xi plans to visit Lincoln High School in Tacoma.

“Actually, when he was a local government official, he visited Seattle and Tacoma [because his] province of China had a school with a sister-school relationship with Lincoln High School. It’s a really great opportunity for him to meet American students in a more casual way and to really understand American culture and get a sense of the Puget Sound area outside of the formal meetings and visits to Microsoft and Boeing,” Locke said.

“My understanding is that he might meet with some of the students involved with different sporting activities, like football,” he said. “Maybe they’ll show him how to throw a football.”

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Gary Locke: Contentious talks ahead for Chinese president in both Washingtons