Why ‘everyday people’ in Iowa were invited to dinner by Xi Jinping

A group of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s “old friends” from Iowa have been invited to a dinner he will attend in California next week – 38 years after hosting the then-unknown party official for a pork roast, farm tours and a boat trip on the Mississippi River. ride while they showed him how capitalists farm.

“It’s been quite a journey – we can’t understand it. We don’t even know why he loves us! said Sarah Lande, an 85-year-old Muscatine resident who has had ties to Xi since her first visit to the United States as head of a food processing delegation from China’s Hebei province in 1985.

“But we’re also looking forward to meeting him.” We are ordinary people,” Lande added.

Xi’s warm and enduring ties to the Midwesterners he first met nearly four decades ago contrast with the suspicion and acrimony that have characterized relations between the two largest economies over the last years.

Xi and President Joe Biden, who plan to meet Wednesday at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in San Francisco, recently took diplomatic steps to ease tensions.

Invitations to Iowans for the APEC sideline reception and dinner came through the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations and the U.S.-China Business Council, in coordination with the Chinese Embassy, said Mr. Lande.

It is unclear to Iowans whether they will have a private audience with Xi, who was 31 when they met him.

Terry Branstad, former governor of Iowa and US ambassador to China, was also invited, according to one of his aides.

In 1985, Gary Dvorchak’s parents gave Xi his bedroom, decorated with Star Trek articles, in their muscatine house. Dvorchak and his sister Paula, who spoke to the future Chinese leader about American films, are on next week’s guest list.

So did Luca Berrone, then Iowa’s economic development chief, who took Xi to company sites including Monsanto Company., Cargill Inc. And Quaker Oatsgrain and livestock farms, the Amana Colonies – a religious community known for its agricultural heritage and community living – and Iowa State University in Ames.

“He wanted to learn how to feed his people,” Lande said in a telephone interview. Xi had read Mark Twain “and he really wanted to see Mississippi,” she said. She hosted him for a potluck at her home overlooking the river.

Berrone’s stops with the four-member delegation and their interpreter included a farm in Coggon, a place where Twain had hidden manuscripts in a wall. Berrone arranged hotels as well as home stays where none were available.

“We had a really good time in two weeks,” he said. “We were like the road movie: five or six guys on a road trip.”

“You are America”

Iowans impressed Xi, said Ken Quinn, former president of the World Food Prize Foundation, who plans to attend the dinner in the Bay Area.

“He was not someone special and the friendship they showed him touched him personally,” said Quinn, who met Xi’s father, Xi Zhongxun, an architect of China’s economic opening. China, during his own trip to Iowa in 1980.

When Xi Jinping returned to the United States in 2012, as vice president and about to ascend to the presidency, he gathered again with the “old friends” at Lande’s house in Muscatine. “He said to me, ‘You were the first people I met in America, and to me, you are America,'” she said.

That year, Xi invited more than a dozen Iowans to China, and “they put everything together in two months,” Lande said. “He was the line boss and he made it happen.”

Xi and his wife, Peng Liyuan – a famous Chinese folk singer – hosted a banquet for them. “She said, ‘Well, I just had to meet the people in Iowa,’” Lande recalled. “By the way, she is a charming and beautiful lady. His last remark was, “If we ever retire, I’m going to get my daughter and we’ll come to Muscatine.” »

The Chinese Embassy in Washington and the dinner organizers did not respond to requests for comment Friday evening.

Beyond the reunion, Iowa, a major producer of soybeans and corn, has an interest in better relations between Washington and Beijing.

This week, China, one of the main importers of soybeans, bought more than 3 million tons of products from the United States, a volume that surprised the market. China was buying cheaper Brazilian supplies and the move is a goodwill gesture ahead of the Biden-Xi talks, according to people familiar with the matter who asked to remain anonymous discussing government decisions.

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