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China's vice president tours port, plans to see Lakers and Kobe

February 16, 2012 |  4:25 pm

China's vice president, Xi Jinping, at Port of L.A.
Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping swept into Los Angeles on Thursday afternoon for a brief and swiftly paced visit that will include stops at a local school, a hot-ticket dinner banquet -- and a Friday night Lakers game.

"He's a Kobe fan," said Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

The mayor and Gov. Jerry Brown greeted Xi -- expected to become the next president of China -- on the tarmac at LAX and drove from there to the Port of Los Angeles, where they toured a China Shipping terminal. Xi told the crowd of shipping company and port officials that he was excited to see the port, which last year imported $120 billion worth of goods from China.

"This is a solid foundation for U.S. trade and economic cooperation," Xi said.

The Chinese official’s five-day trip to the U.S. has been met with considerable pomp -– he was given a 19-gun salute at the Pentagon earlier this week -- and his arrival in Los Angeles was no different. At the shipping terminal, a long row of Chinese flags had been lined up alongside a sleek green freighter that was piled with shipping containers.

China Shipping, which is the eighth-largest shipping company in the world, is in the midst of a $253-million expansion at the port that will double its size. Company officials say it will be one of the greenest container terminals in the world, and note that China Shipping already had the distinction, in 2004, of being the first shipping line to plug its vessels into electric power sources while docked to avoid burning excess fuel.

“We’re not just growing our port, we’re greening our port,” Villaraigosa said as Xi was given an explanation of the electric power system. Brown said California was a national leader in green technology, telling Xi, "The state is more advanced than Washington in terms of renewable energy."

Before Xi arrived, the chairman of the company said the new innovations have helped air quality in the surrounding communities. China Shipping chairman Li Shaode also said he believes Xi’s visit will improve relations between the U.S. and Chinese, adding: “I think it’s going to accelerate volumes of trade.”

The trade deficit between the U.S. and China -- which last year hit a record high –- is of growing concern to U.S. officials. But Li said he believe the deficit will close with time. In the past, he said, China Shipping vessels dropped off their cargo and returned to China mostly empty. Now, he said, the ships return to China with about 50% of their containers full of American goods.

On Thursday night, Xi will attend a dinner with members of the local Chinese American community at the JW Marriott downtown. 

The real whirlwind begins Friday. Xi's schedule includes the school visit, an economic forum, a meeting with U.S. and China governors, and, time permitting, a trip to Staples Center to catch Kobe Bryant in action.

Villaraigosa, who met Xi a few months ago in Beijing, and who invited Xi to the game Friday, said the Chinese vice president hopes to make it for the second half of the game.


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-- Kate Linthicum

Photo: Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping shakes hands with officers Thursdasy as he tours the China Shipping terminal at the Port of Los Angeles. Credit: Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles Times