Just after 6:30 p.m. Chicago time, Mayor Richard Daley and his wife Maggie met President Hu Jintao inside a Hilton Chicago ballroom, with business leaders in Chicago and from China joining them.

As news cameras flashed, Daley and Hu sat next to one another in white hotel armchairs, with a bouquet of flowers sitting on a coffee table between them.

Hu, through a translator, congratulated Daley on his 22 years in office, making him "the most senior mayor in America."

The Chinese president also noted Chicago's economic progress under Daley, saying "I want to offer my sincere congratulations to you.”

Daley emphasized to Hu the importance of stronger economic and cultural ties between Chicago and China.

"Our relationship can be stronger each day," the mayor said. "We have a strong commitment to building friendship and economic ties into not only government but the business community."

While the two spoke, several corporate heads in attendance nodded in agreement. Among them, were James McNerney, CEO of the Boeing Company, which won a $19 billion contract with China to sell 200 of its planes.

Also there were the heads of Caterpillar Inc., Motorola Solutions Inc., and JP Morgan Chase - all of which have business in China. 

Chinese President Hu Jintao has arrived in Chicago for a two-day visit.

Hu arrived shortly before 4:30 p.m, a frigid wind greeting him at O'Hare International Airport as he stepped from his airplane and was welcomed by Mayor Richard Daley and Chinese consulate officials, several holding red and white roses.

He then walked toward a U.S. Secret Service motorcade taking him into the city. Ramps on the Kennedy were to be closed as the motorcade passed.

Arriving from Washington, where Hu met this morning with congressional leaders, the president headed toward the Hilton Chicago hotel, where he and Daley plan to meet privately before a formal dinner in his honor.

Across the street from the Hilton about 500 pro-China ralliers stood pressed up against a police barrier set up along Michigan Avenue.

Nearby, a group of men performed a dragon dance to the banging of cymbals and a drum.

Ralliers held huge red flags of China as well as several University of Illinois flags.

Xi Shu, 27, a former University of Illinois Chicago student who is now a software programmer braced the cold to get a glimpse of the Chinese leader.

"I think its fun. It's actually hard to see him in China," said Shu, as he held a 6-foot-tall Chinese flag. "He's usually in Beijing and when he comes to other cities he doesn't make appearances like this. Its not impossible to see him but it would be really hard."

On the northeast corner on Michigan and Balbo avenues about three dozen pro-Tibet protesters stood by, chanting slogans and holding signs.

"Liar liar" called out a man with a megaphone. "Hu Jintao!" the crowd shouted in response.

"Since Hu Jintao took power, he has been pushing an anti-Tibet agenda," said Tsering Choephel, 40, of Madison, Wis. "He's pushing a policy to make Tibetan children learn Chinese and not Tibetan. Slowly the culture dies on its own. He was the worst of the Chinese leaders."

Choephel held a sign with a drawing of Hu sporting a Hitler mustache and blood on his hands.

Across the street from the hotel, Zhongmin Jin, 42, of Naperville, held small American and Chinese flags in his left hand as he stuffed his right in his pocket trying to keep it warm.

"First of all, I'm a Chinese-American, and the friendly relations between the two countries is good for people in both countries, and the whole world," said Jin, who works as a school administrator at a Chinese language school in Naperville.

Jin said he was a college student in China and was at Tiananmen Square protesting against the government. He said his views have softened with age.

"When you grow up you realize that things aren't so simple," Jin said. "I grew up and I opened my eyes and see things from a different perspective. I think China is moving in the right direction now."

By about 6:15 p.m., the crowd of about 200 Tibetan supporters on Balbo Drive shouted "Hu dines, Tibetans die" "Tibet will be free", and "Human rights before Trade" to a contingent of China supporters across the street.

The supporters fired back by banging drums and cymbals to drown out the chants of the Tibetan protesters.

 

alwang@tribune.com

aolivo@tribune.com