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Washington • Utah is preparing to host the most expansive diplomatic effort between U.S. governors and Chinese officials to date.

The U.S. Governors Forum is an outgrowth of talks between President Barack Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao in January, and its first official meetings are slated to take place in Salt Lake City in July, as part of the already planned National Governors Association summer meeting.

To make sure the event starts on the right footing, a delegation from China greeted the nation's governors as they gathered in Washington, D.C., on Saturday and the Chinese Embassy held a reception in their honor.

"This is a pioneering undertaking to expand bilateral cooperation," said Zhou Qiang, party secretary for Hunan Province in central China. "I believe with the establishment of this forum, there will be more frequent exchanges, closer cooperation and brighter prospects for local governments of our two countries."

Zhou and Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire signed an accord Saturday that formalized the relationship, which seeks to foster face-to-face discussions between governors and Chinese provincial party leaders about trade and educational exchanges.

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert said the forum will help the two countries understand each other better, and it makes good business sense. "On a practical side, it is going to help us economically," he said, calling it "really good for the creation of jobs."

Herbert has never visited China, but he will just a few months before the forum convenes.

The governor plans to lead a trade mission to Beijing and Shanghai in April, marking the first Utah-led trip since former Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. escorted business leaders in 2006. Huntsman is now the ambassador to China, though he has tendered his resignation effective at the end of April and is considering a run at the presidency in 2012.

Herbert's staff has yet to select which business leaders will accompany the governor, though they say they have far more applications than they do available slots. Herbert expects some of the participants will come from the state's medical device sector, as well as in the area of energy technology, particularly when it comes to ways to burn coal more cleanly.

Utah's exports to China grew by 27 percent from 2009 to 2010, making it the state's second-largest trading partner behind the United Kingdom, according to the Governor's Office of Economic Development.

"We'll build on that solid foundation and see if we can find ways for Utah's businesses to expand, sell products and export products to China," Herbert said.

Huntsman bumped from China's Internet

The U.S. is irritated at China for blocking online searches for Ambassador Jon Huntsman Jr.'s name. Huntsman has resigned effective April 30.

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said in a Twitter post Saturday that "it is remarkable" that even before Huntsman leaves Beijing, "China has made him disappear from the Internet."

Source • The Associated Press