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Chinese President’s Visit To Tacoma Grew Out Of Long-Standing Sister-City Relationship

Saul Loeb
Chinese President Xi Jinping, right, and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry shake hands in Beijing this past May.

When the Chinese president visits Seattle next week, he’ll take time to drop in at a Tacoma high school. That visit is the result of lots of behind-the-scenes effort in Tacoma and in the Chinese city of Fuzhou. The two municipalities have long ties with each other.

Gregory Youtz is the chair of the Tacoma Fuzhou Sister City Program and a music professor at Pacific Lutheran University. He says a lot of Chinese people will be exposed to Tacoma because of the president’s visit.

“We’re hoping that this may give us an economic boost, maybe a tourism boost, maybe an investment boost. It really should put Tacoma on the map, not just as a neighbor of Seattle but as its own place,” said Youtz.

President Xi already knows Tacoma. He was Communist Party secretary of Fuzhou in 1993 and visited Tacoma as the sister-city relationship was being forged. That partnership has since deepened with an emphasis on trade in recent years.

"We have a long-standing relationship and have had over 30 trade visits and missions over the course of 21 years," said Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland. 

Serving Dinner To A Future President

Not many Americans can claim to have hosted the Chinese president in their homes before. But Port of Tacoma Commissioner Connie Bacon is one of the few. 

Back in the early 1990s, when Bacon headed the World Trade Center of Tacoma, she spearheaded the effort to create a sister-city relationship with Fuzhou. When Xi Jinping came with a delegation from Fuzhou to Tacoma in 1993 to explore that idea, Bacon invited them to her home for dinner. 

Of course, at the time, she had no idea she was hosting the man who would go on to lead the world's most populous country. 

"Who knew he would ever rise to be president of the country?" Bacon said. 

She still remembers what she served, with mixed success. 

"The appetizer was a shrimp and avocado and cilantro in a vinaigrette, and they loved that, but then the main course, I had made homemade meatballs and spaghetti - (they) didn't like that at all," Bacon recalled. 

But the spaghetti dish didn't deter the Fuzhou delegation from moving forward with the sister-city arrangement, and the ties became stronger in 2008 with the announcement of a trade project aimed at helping Tacoma businesses attract Chinese investment dollars and develop export markets for South Puget Sound-area companies in China.

In July 2017, Ashley Gross became KNKX's youth and education reporter after years of covering the business and labor beat. She joined the station in May 2012 and previously worked five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.