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Thursday, April 20, 2006 - Page updated at 12:16 AM

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Hu tours Boeing plant, meets workers

Seattle Times aerospace reporter

EVERETT -- President Hu Jintao of China addressed some 5,000 to 6,000 guests and Boeing workers at the widebody assembly plant here this morning, perhaps the least predictable audience he'll face throughout his trip.

While some blue-collar workers present expressed concern in private about Boeing off-loading of their work to China, the public celebration of the company's ties with China went smoothly.

Boeing commercial airplanes chief executive Alan Mulally introduced Hu and both men spoke glowingly of the relationship between Boeing and China.

After the speeches Boeing worker Paul Dernier, a 777 systems installation supervisor, presented Hu with a baseball hat sporting the Boeing logo.

Hu threw his arm around Dernier's shoulder as the two posed for photos in matching hats, then surprised the worker in the one less formal moment with a big American-style hug.

As he closed the proceedings, Mulally pumped his fist and shouted "China rocks!"

Even as he did so, the sound of rivet guns could be heard starting up in the next bay, as if the workers there had decided, time's up, we've got airplanes to build.

In his short speech, Hu presented the close relationship between China and Boeing as emblematic of the good that can come from better trade relations.

"I would say that Boeing's cooperation with China is a vivid example of the mutually beneficial cooperation and win-win outcome that China and the United States have achieved from trading with each other," he said through an interpreter.

"I sincerely hope that the cooperation between Boeing and China will be even more successful in future and will further expand in scale," he said. "And I also sincerely hope that the economic and trade relations between our two countries in general will prosper further and fly higher, just like a Boeing plane."

Hu spoke in the 767 production bay, before a huge video screen. Behind him, peaking above the screen, was the tail of an almost-ready 767 destined to be a tanker for the Japanese Air Force.

Before the speech, Hu had gone on a quick tour of the Everett plant. He visited the 747 production line where a small team of workers showed him around.

Then he visited a screened off area where Boeing had brought in the large single-piece 787 fuselage barrel that's normally housed at the Future of Flight exhibition center near the plant. Mike Bair, head of the 787 program, gave Hu a briefing. China has ordered 60 of the airplanes.

Finally he went to the 777 production line, where another small team of workers took him through an airplane soon to be delivered to Cathay Pacific of Hong Kong.

Workers assembled to listen to Hu expressed a wide array of hopes, expectations, fears and reactions to Hu's visit.

Chun-Seng Wang, an American born in Shanghai, has been in the U.S. 16 years, 10 of them as an engineer at Boeing. Wang welcomed Hu's visit and said he thought it would have a positive effects on U.S.-China relations and on Boeing.

Tu Tran, a 737 wireshop worker, came to the U.S. from Vietnam in 1978 and has been at Boeing 14 years. Also welcoming Hu's visit, Tran said he looked to the opening of China's closed and Communist economy as a model for the future of his own homeland. "It's an opportunity for me to see how a communist country reacts with the outside world," he said.

Robert Miller, a 15-year Boeing veteran who works with Tran in the 737 wireshop, was keen to see Hu because of all he's read about the growth of China's economy. "As soon as they catch up to us, they are going to be a power to reckon with," Miller said. But Miller is concerned about outsourcing . He said there are people from his work area training Chinese workers in China.

"There's a lot of animosity," he said. "People feel very bitter."

"I don't like anybody taking away our jobs," Miller said. "But that's business."

In his speech, Hu had only warm praise for Boeing and everything he'd seen on the factory tour.

"I am deeply impressed by the ... high quality team of staff and workers, the efficient and well-organized assembly process and the state-of-the-art technology," Hu said. "In particular I was impressed by the innovative spirit of the Boeing plant."

Dominic Gates: 206-464-2963 or dgates@seattletimes.com

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