Iowa 'old friends' happy for Xi's rise

Updated: 2013-03-15 14:04

By Zhang Yuwei in New York (China Daily)

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The National People's Congress session in Beijing, where China's new leadership was announced this week, attracted worldwide attention. In the United States, Sarah Lande was particularly interested in the events at the Great Hall of the People.

The leadership change had a personal connection to the 74-year-old resident of Muscatine, Iowa. Lande said she was delighted that her old friend Xi Jinping had become China's new president.

"I am excited as an old friend of his, and also excited that the people of China have such a good leader. I'm excited for the US, too, because together with our president, he will find ways for our countries to work together," she said.

The nearly three-decade bond was forged in 1985 when Xi visited Muscatine as a young Party official in Hebei province who traveled with a delegation studying Iowa's agricultural technology.

Lande recalled the young Chinese official, but she didn't imagine their friendship would last for nearly 30 years. In February 2012, Xi made a stop in Muscatine, a Mississippi River city of about 23,000 people, during a weeklong visit as China's vice-president.

The Iowan described Xi as a "warm, caring, listening person" who on his trip last year sat with a group of 17 friends at Lande's house, where he had stayed in 1985. She recalled the Chinese official saying, "Friendship is the foundation of a good relationship."

That impressed the Muscatine native.

"In the next 10 years, it is very important for our countries to work together, and you have to get to know each other in order to do that," Lande said.

Their friendship is now well known in the small city, but Lande said it's more than a human-interest story that pops up on occasion. It's about being "a good example of how to further that relationship between the two countries", she said.

Lande has promoted closer ties between her city and China.

The Muscatine Art Center is presenting an exhibition, The Other Side of the World, featuring Chinese-American artist Chun Arthur Wang. One of his paintings, Muscatine's Golden Key, portrays Xi receiving two keys to the city in honor of his visits.

"Most Chinese had never heard of Muscatine until the Chinese and global press reported on Xi Jinping's return visit to this Iowa town in 2012," said Wang, who teaches at Columbus College of Art and Design in Ohio.

"People were touched by the story that Mr Xi did not forget the local family that hosted him for three days during his visit in 1985. The profound friendship between Mr Xi and ordinary American people impressed many Chinese people, including me," the artist said.

In Maxwell, a town in central Iowa, the Kimberley family, who received Xi at their farm in February 2012, were also excited at the news of his election as president by the NPC.

Grant Kimberley, who met with him both on the farm and during a trade mission to China, told China Daily in November that Xi sees opportunities to expand China-US economic ties that would benefit both countries as well as agriculture-dependent Iowa.

"He understands the importance of agriculture trade with Iowa and the US to ensure a safe and stable supply of food for the Chinese people and that it can serve as the foundation for a positive relationship between the two countries," Kimberley said.

Her enduring friendship with Xi also makes Lande feel responsible to encourage exchanges, not only in trade and agriculture, but on a local level between the world's top two economic powers.

In November, she was part of a delegation led by Muscatine Mayor DeWayne Hopkins that took an eight-day trip to China to initiate a sister-city relationship with Zhengding. That's the Hebei province municipality where Xi was deputy secretary of the Party committee in the early 1980s.

Following the Iowans' visit, the mayor of Zhengding County is scheduled to visit Muscatine in April to conclude the sister-city agreement.

"It just keeps going - all the good things that are coming on," Lande said. "We are excited and honored to be an example to both of our countries and to have our countries and our communities get to know, respect and trust each other."