Chinese President Xi Jinping plans to visit Tacoma’s Lincoln High School next week while he’s in the United States for a state visit, Gov. Jay Inslee’s office announced Wednesday.
It’s one of several Puget Sound area destinations on the itinerary for the Chinese delegation before it heads to Washington, D.C. Others include a technology forum in Seattle and a dinner at the home of Bill Gates, the New York Times reported.
The city of Tacoma said Xi and his wife, Peng Liyuan, will visit Lincoln on Sept. 23.
“We’re a great high school, and also representative of America in terms of our diversity,” Lincoln Principal Pat Erwin said in an interview.
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Lincoln is one of the city’s most diverse high schools, and more than 13 percent of the students there have some type of Asian heritage.
This is not Xi’s first visit to Tacoma. He was last here in 1993, two decades before he was elected president, when he worked as a local government official in Fuzhou, China.
That prior relationship “made a strong case for choosing Tacoma” as one of his stops in the Northwest, Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland said.
Tacoma has had a sister-city relationship with Fuzhou since 1994. Both cities have participated in educational, cultural and sports exchanges, and Tacoma lawmakers regularly visit Fuzhou.
Erwin, who is married to Strickland, said it was last month that he first heard of the possibility that Lincoln could host the visiting dignitary. Erwin said he received a call from the Chinese Embassy saying the president was interested in visiting an American school during his time in the U.S.
Erwin said he only received confirmation of the visit Tuesday night. He met with representatives of the Secret Service and the Tacoma Police Department on Wednesday morning, before announcing the news to his staff.
Lincoln previously offered a course of study in Mandarin, but the language teacher retired. Erwin said there’s interest in reviving Mandarin classes if an instructor can be found. Also, Lincoln teachers have visited Fuzhou for professional exchanges and to teach.
The school in 2008 signed a memorandum of understanding with the Affiliated High School of Fuzhou Institute of Education to promote faculty, student, cultural and sports exchanges.
Inslee spokesman David Postman said Wednesday that visiting Lincoln was a priority for the Chinese delegation.
“The first time the advance teams met, it was something that was on their wish list,” Postman said.
Xi plans to visit Boeing’s Paine Field in Everett and Microsoft’s main campus in Redmond while in Washington Tuesday through next Thursday.
Inslee has appointed former Washington governors Gary Locke, who also was the U.S. ambassador to China from 2011-14, and Chris Gregoire to lead a 30-person committee to welcome Xi and members of his delegation.
China is Washington’s top export destination, and the state’s largest trading partner with more than $29 billion of trade in 2014, according to the governor’s office. Nearly one-fourth of all Washington exports go to China.
In addition to Tacoma’s sister city relationship with Fuzhou, several other Pierce County cities have Chinese sister cities, including Lakewood and DuPont.
News Tribune reporter Kate Martin contributed to this report.