Chinese President Hu Jintao kicked off his trip to the US yesterday with a visit to Microsoft's campus in Redmond, Washington, and dinner at the home of Bill Gates, the company's chairman and chief software architect.

During his visit to Microsoft's campus, Hu assured Gates that China is committed to protecting IP (intellectual property) rights, China's state-run media reported. He also told Gates that China welcomed further investment from Microsoft, the reports said.

IP infringement, including software piracy, is a big source of friction between China and the US. More than 90 percent of software used in China is unlicensed, according to a US government estimate. In a bid to soothe US concerns, the Chinese government has pushed PC makers to pre-install copies of licensed software on the computers they produce.

One day before Hu's arrival in the US, Microsoft and Lenovo, China's largest PC maker, inked a $1.2bn (about £670m) deal to install licensed versions of Microsoft's operating system on PCs sold in China and other countries. Microsoft signed similar deals with two other Chinese PC makers earlier this month.

Following his tour of Microsoft's campus and a visit to a local school, Hu was a guest for dinner at the Gates' home. The dinner was attended by around 100 guests, including former Washington Governor Gary Locke, a prominent Chinese-American politician, China's media reported.

Hu's visit to Microsoft had originally been planned for last year but was postponed following Hurricane Katrina, which devastated large areas of the US Gulf Coast.

His current US trip is part of a five-nation tour that will last until 29 April and include stops in Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Nigeria and Kenya. He will meet with President George W Bush tomorrow in Washington, DC, for talks that are expected to focus on a range of issues, including bilateral trade, North Korea, and Iranian efforts to acquire nuclear weapons.

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