Hailing him as a "man of vision," Mayor Richard Daley on Thursday held a formal dinner and gala for visiting Chinese president Hu Jintao and vowed to make Chicago "the most China-friendly city in the United States."
At a pre-dinner meeting at the Chicago Hilton and Towers, the men showered each other with praise. 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 was James McNerney, CEO of the Boeing Company, which won a $19 billion contract with China to sell 200 of its planes.
At dinner, with a menu that included dry-aged Midwestern filet mignon and braised short ribs, Daley announced a the establishment of a $1 million scholarship fund by the Margot and Tom Pritzker Family Foundation for Chinese art students who want to study at the Art Institute of Chicago.
Caterpillar and Motorola Solutions each committed $100,000 the fund.
"We want to establish a new partnership between Chicago and China that will benefit the future generations for years to come," the mayor said, turning toward Hu.
Spotted among the approximately 500 attendees at the dinner and gala were Gov. Pat Quinn, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, Sen. Mark Kirk, Sen. Dick Durbin, Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Ald. Tom Tunney and Former White House Chief of Staff and Chicago mayoral candidate Rahm Emanuel.
Earlier in the day, Quinn and Kirk participated in a ceremonial signing of agreements to increase Illinois' soybean sales to China.
Leading up to the visit, Daley said he anticipated Hu's visit would be an important milestone in "establishing Chicago as China’s economic 'Gateway to America.'"
Daley has been to China four times to promote Chicago as a welcoming place for Chinese business, and he's been instrumental in developing a large Chinese language and culture institute in Chicago.
He was also in the nation's capital this week attending a meeting of the United States Conference of Mayors and the state dinner at the White House in Hu's honor.
Hu was greeted earlier in the afternoon by a frigid wind and red and white roses at O'Hare International Airport as he kicked off the two-day visit.
Daley and Chinese consulate officials welcomed the Air China plane when it landed shortly before 4:30 p.m. Several ramps along the Kennedy Expressway were closed as a U.S. Secret Service motorcade took the Asian leader into the city.
Hu's visit -- his only U.S. destination outside of Washington, D.C., -- also drew attention to China's record on human rights. Protestors were seen along the Magnificent Mile and the head of the Tibetan Alliance of Chicago told the Chicago Tribune that Hu is not welcome in Chicago.
"The cost of human rights is so much bigger than economic and trade freedom," said Sangay Taythi with the Tibetan Youth Congress.
Another, larger group across the street gathered to show their support of Hu and his visit.
Friday's plans for Hu include a tour of Walter Payton College Prep, home to the first Confucious Institute in Chicago, and a tour of Chinese businesses which have a presence in the Midwest.