Ng Tze-wei in Chicago
Jan 23, 2011
President Hu Jintao was in Chicago for less than 24 hours but his choice of the Midwestern city as a second stop appeared to have hit the right note with Americans.
In the national news cycle, Hu's visit to Chicago has receded from front page to opinion pages, even in local papers. But the reports have mostly portrayed it in a positive light, and saw it as recognition of a rising Chicago - a traditional industrial rust-belt city turned sleek financial and cultural centre.
The two main purposes of the Chicago leg were to make contact with many key US enterprises that are based there and tout Chinese enterprises doing business in the US that have created jobs for Americans.
"There are many Chinese businesses that have chosen to locate in the Chicago region, and we appreciate their decision to do so," Mayor Richard Daley said at an exhibition set up by China General Chamber of Commerce-USA featuring nine Chinese companies doing business in the city, from car parts maker Wanxiang America Corporation to Huawei Technologies and China Telecom (SEHK: 0728) (Americas).
"Our long-range goal is to make Chicago the most China-friendly city in the United States," he said.
While business ties were highlighted, Hu's visit to Walter Payton Preparatory High School could easily have been the highlight of the trip for both him and the audience. At the school he was treated to performances by pupils including a choir and a Chinese handkerchief dance.
The school is also home to the largest Confucius Institute - a Chinese-government-backed organisation aimed at promoting Chinese language and culture.
Yesterday was a day of examinations at the school, but pupils said they were excited about the visit.
"I think it's fantastic to see the president of China, which is like a huge world power, to see him in our school auditorium," Grade 12 pupil Helenka Mietka said. "I've heard negative things about China like human rights and pollution; I don't think I'm well informed enough to judge. But I think it's a good thing that co-operation is going on."
Grade 10 pupil Chantae Howell said she was learning Chinese because she thought it would be good for business.
She thought the visit was "cool" even though she did not agree with some of the Chinese president's policies such as that on Tibet ; she is planning to sign up for a trip to China in the next school year.
Eric Cheung, an immigrant from Hong Kong in Grade 10, said he thought the visit showed that Hu "cared about how schools in other countries are doing, and that he can make schools in China better".
He said he was learning Putonghua because he wanted to go back to China to work one day.
David Lampton of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore said in an earlier interview that Hu's visit to Chicago or any Midwestern city "is in some sense as important as a visit to Washington".
"One of the big needs for the Chinese is to put a human face on China for the American people. And in Chicago he's [exposed] to more civilian aspects of the American society."