The familiar issues of the economy, human rights, Tibet and Taiwan are set to feature prominently on both the official and unofficial agenda during Hu Jintao's stay.

The visit is Hu's first to the US since he took over as president in 2003.

Hundreds of protesters are expected in downtown Seattle on Tuesday as Hu begins a two-day stop before heading to Washington DC and a meeting with his US counterpart, George Bush.

Practitioners of Falun Gong, a spiritual movement that is banned as an "evil cult" in China, will be among those staging protests.

Meanwhile Taiwanese-Americans are also planning demonstrations to assert the island's right to independence while Tibetan groups will be calling for an end to China's rule of their homeland.

Hu himself is a former provincial governor of Tibet.

Taiwan issue

"When he was there, the big pro-independence demonstration in 1989 was brutally cracked down under his orders," said Tenzin Wangyal of Seattle, whose family followed the Dalai Lama into exile in India.

"A lot of peaceful protesters were killed and arrested and tortured and some to this day we don't know what happened to them."

Taiwanese-Americans are also opposing Hu's visit, with some suggesting it was being used as a trick to lure Americans away from the only fully democratic part of Chinese society.

"Of course China, they try to indicate that they like to be friends with Taiwan but ... they have more than 800 missiles aimed at Taiwan," said Stanley Hsiao, a member of the Taiwanese-American Association of Greater Seattle.

Taiwan split with China in 1949 at the end of a civil war, but the mainland continues to lay claim to the island, branding it a "renegade province".

But many US business leaders are welcoming Hu's visit as are Chinese-Americans proud of the country's economic success.

On Tuesday, for example, the Chinese president will receive a warm welcome at the Boeing factory after a series of recent major orders of Boeing jets from Chinese airlines.

Hu will then dine with the world's richest man, Microsoft chairman Bill Gates.

On Friday, China announced a ban on sales of computers without legal software in a move seen partly as bowing to US concerns over rampant piracy in China.

Secrets trial

Meanwhile, just days before Hu meets Bush for talks that will likely cover the issue of human rights, lawyers for a detained Chinese employee of the New York Times said they were told on Monday prosecutors were again considering whether to seek his trial.

Zhao Yan was detained in September 2004 on charges of revealing state secrets abroad after the Times reported that Jiang Zemin, China's former president, planned to abandon his military posts, a report that turned out to be accurate.

Later, prosecutors issued an indictment to try Zhao on a state secrets charge related to information about a military rivalry between Hu and Jiang, as well as a lesser charge of fraud.

In a dramatic reversal in March, a Beijing court agreed to prosecutors' request to withdraw the indictment, raising defence hopes that Zhao would soon be released.

But Zhao's attorney, Mo Shaoping, said on Monday that prosecutors were again considering whether to try him and that there was now "quite a chance they may apply for Zhao Yan's trial" after all.