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China President to Stop at Microsoft Before White House Visit

Chinese President Hu Jintao is visiting the United States this week, but his first stop isn't a state dinner at the White House. Instead, Hu will first dine with Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates and tour one of Boeing's aircraft factories. Both Microsoft and Boeing are located in the Seattle area.

Mr. Hu's visit is designed largely to offset American fears that China will soon eclipse US economic might worldwide. With 1.3 billion people, China is the fastest-growing consumer market on the planet, thanks to state-sponsored programs aimed at modernizing urban areas at an unprecedented pace. The country is a study in contrasts: Cities such as Beijing and Shanghai are among the most modern in the world, while western rural regions of the country are almost medieval in their simplicity.

Although some US companies have found great success in China, Microsoft isn't one of them. Its software is routinely pirated there, and the government has done little until recently to combat the problem. However, US officials say there has been a shift in policy toward protecting intellectual property rights in China in recent months. And in March, the Chinese government required all China-based PC makers to install OSs on their PCs before shipping, ensuring that customers will have to legally buy the software as part of the system purchase.

As for the Gates dinner, it's unclear what the two icons will discuss. Certainly there are plenty of potential topics: Software piracy, jobs outsourcing, research labs and other Chinese investments, and Gates's philanthropic work round out some of the obvious choices.

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