Xi's old Iowa friends wish summit well

Updated: 2013-06-07 13:09

By Zhang Yuwei in New York (China Daily)

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The two-day summit meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and US President Barack Obama has a personal connection for Muscatine, Iowa resident Sarah Lande.

June 7, the day the leaders meet, is Lande's 75th birthday, and she says the get-together of the leaders of the world's two largest economies is one of the best birthday presents she could ever receive.

Xi's old Iowa friends wish summit well

Then Vice-President Xi Jinping catches up on old times at the home of Roger and Sarah Lande in Muscatine, Iowa, on Feb 15, 2012. [Photo/Xinhua]

And for good reason, Lande said. Back in 1985, Lande's family played host to a Chinese delegation studying Iowa's farming technology and Xi, the then Party official of Hebei Province in northern China, was among the members of the delegation.

Last February, that nearly three-decade-old friendship brought Xi –– Vice President of China at the time –– back to Muscatine, a Mississippi River town of about 23,000 people, for a reunion with his "old friends" during a week-long visit to the US.

"He wouldn't have needed to do that (to come to visit us)," Lande said.

"He laughed and remembered the good times," Lande said of her old friend at the February meeting. "He truly seemed like a warm, caring, listening person who could tell stories. He is a personal person you like."

Lande describes Xi as someone who values "people-to-people" relationships and is a "confident individual" who will lead US-China relations forward.

For Lande, the highlight of Xi's speech during his February visit was when he said, "To me, you are America," a remark that deeply touched many in the town.

"My community appreciates the opportunity to lead the way in setting the first impression with the new leader of China," said Muscatine mayor DeWayne M. Hopkins. "We hope that our President follows our lead."

Muscatine and Zhengding County in Hebei Province became sister cities in April.

White House officials said the meeting between Xi and Obama – which takes place at Sunnylands, a desert retreat in Rancho Mirage, California – will provide an opportunity for the two leaders to have a "substantive, candid, and productive conversation".

"It is my feeling that when two people sit down to discuss differences, and both have an opportunity to air their concerns about the other, that problems current and future begin to be solved," said Hopkins. "On-going communications are key to problem solving."

Lande hopes the two leaders will talk through differences and disagreements between the two nations and focus more on the "many things we could work on together positively".

"I have just high hopes," said Lande. "I think it will be my birthday present that they have a very successful summit.

"I am excited and hopeful about it," Lande continued. "I like the setting. It sounds like it's more relaxed so that they can have time to talk and get to know one another, and get to listen to what the priorities are for both countries. They will build up respect and trust and figure out many ways they can cooperate."

For Lande, being President Xi's American friend is not just an honor, it is also a big responsibility to help promote more exchanges between the two largest economies at a local level. And Lande, whose friendship with the Chinese President is well-known in the Iowa community, has been busy doing just that.

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

In April, Lande joined a China trade mission of 50 people, including Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, Virginia governor Bob McDonnell and led by Iowa governor Terry Branstad.

That trip also included a celebration of the 30th anniversary of the Iowa-Hebei sister-state relationship. Lande said the reciprocal visit from Hebei will take place in Iowa this September.

Among all these trips, Lande treasured one in particular. Last June, at the invitation of Xi, Lande and Xi's other old Iowa friends visited Beijing, where they were hosted by Xi and his wife, Peng Liyuan.

Lande said she felt "very special" because she sat between Xi and his wife at the meeting.

"She is a beautiful, fun, humorous person," Lande said of Peng, adding that part of their conversation on culture and music was in English.


(China Daily USA 06/07/2013 page13)