April 19, 2006

China’s Hu Turns Starbucks Promoter at Gates dinner

MEDINA, Washington -- Less than 24 hours into his visit to Seattle, Chinese President Hu Jintao was already serving as a pitchman for the city's homegrown Starbucks Corp.

Speaking to business executives, politicians and other dignitaries during a dinner on Tuesday at the home of Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates, Hu expressed his desire to be a regular at the ubiquitous coffee-store chain.

"Starbucks coffee shops have mushroomed in China's cities," said the Chinese leader through a translator.

"If I were not serving in this office, I would certainly prefer to go into one of the coffee shops run by Starbucks," said the usually reserved Hu, drawing laughter from the crowd, which included Starbucks Chairman Howard Schultz.

Starbucks, based in Seattle, opened its first store in China in 1999 and now has close to 400 shops there. It expects the country will eventually be its largest overseas market.

Hu arrived in Seattle earlier on Tuesday and toured the Microsoft campus before a dinner at Gates' lakeside mansion with about 100 guests, including former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington state.

Security was tight.

Bomb-sniffing dogs surveyed the grounds before the guests arrived and a U.S. Coast Guard boat guarded the water surrounding the lodge-style home.

Guests held champagne flutes filled with Dom Perignon while Washington state Gov. Chris Gregoire and Hu exchanged toasts.

Hu emphasized the goals the United States and China shared and thanked Gates for "providing this elegant venue with both traditional arts and modern technology and fine tastes."

The guests were then served a three-course meal, starting with a smoked guinea fowl salad, a choice of beef filet with Walla Walla onions or Alaskan halibut and spot prawns before a dessert of rhubarb brown butter almond cake.