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Former Washington Gov. Gary Locke — and his Davis Wright Tremaine colleagues — will host part of Chinese President Hu Jintao’s historic visit to the U.S. next week, a move partners tout as a coup for the firm’s growing China practice. Locke, who joined Seattle-based Davis Wright in February after leaving the governor’s mansion, met Hu twice during his two terms as governor and was invited by Chinese officials to host the Washington leg of the trip. Hu’s first visit to the U.S. as China’s president will also include stops at the United Nations, Yale University and Washington, D.C. Davis Wright is one of many West Coast firms that have been promoting their China practices as the economy in that country continues to boom. The 400-lawyer firm doesn’t have the largest U.S. presence in China, but it was the first to establish a Shanghai office, in 1994 — a move partners say established recognition and trust within the business and legal communities there. “We still have that advantage but we see the competition getting tougher and tougher,” said James Fang, a founder of Davis Wright’s nine-lawyer Shanghai office. The firm’s deep roots in China helps its clients “navigate the bureaucratic maze,” Fang said. Locke was the first Chinese-American governor in the U.S., and made several trade missions to China to rally support for Washington-based businesses. He made his first visit to China representing Davis Wright this summer. “People seem to know me without ever having met me, and that’s been very beneficial in opening doors,” Locke said. Locke did not want to name specific clients he represents, but Davis Wright’s roster includes Bank of China, China Shipping, DuPont, Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co., Microsoft Corp. and Starbucks Coffee Co. Locke says he enjoys almost ministerial status as a former American governor. “It puts some of our clients in stronger positions — government officials will take a much more serious look,” Locke said. “When you’re processing thousands of pieces of paper, what makes one stand out?” Other firms involved in China discount the role personal relationships play in business there. “At least for major transactions over which foreign lawyers salivate, having the right connection just wins you a ticket to a beauty contest,” said John Zhang, an attorney with 1,200-lawyer Greenberg Traurig’s China practice. Zhang said it can also be perceived as bad taste to laud connections with Chinese officials. Discretion is paramount, he said. Howard Chao, the head of O’Melveny & Myers’ Asia practice, acknowledges that relationships with government officials are important in China, but agreed that the nation is moving away from that model. “Increasingly you have to compete on the basis of what you have to offer,” Chao said. O’Melveny, which was also among the first firms to enter China, has some 30 lawyers spread across offices in Shanghai, Hong Kong and Beijing. When looking for new recruits, Chao looks foremost at a candidate’s legal skills and ability to function within the culture. In the next few days, Davis Wright lawyers will be heading up to Seattle from the Portland, Ore., San Francisco and Los Angeles offices for the festivities. Washington state and the city of Seattle are official hosts, but Locke and Davis Wright have actively planned and organized the visit, including an elaborate lunch, a visit to the Microsoft and Boeing Co. headquarters and meetings with civic and business leaders. Davis Wright staffers are planning the details down to the menu, decorations and transportation. “It’s a marvelous event — we’re happy and proud,” said Martin Fineman, the partner in charge of the firm’s San Francisco office. “And, if it brings added recognition to us, that’s great too.”

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