The man who’s likely to be the next leader of China spent the first part of his visit to Iowa reminiscing about a previous trip, but also predicting expansion of Chinese trade with Iowa in the years ahead.
Xi Jinping, China’s vice president, spoke through an interpreter tonight as he addressed an invited crowd gathered inside the statehouse.
“Coming to Iowa brings back many fond memories,” Xi said. “In 1985, during my first visit to the United States, I visited the state of Iowa and that was my first direct encounter with the people of the United States.”
AUDIO of toasts from Governor Terry Branstad & Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping (runs 27:30)
Xi revealed that as a young boy in China he had read Mark Twain’s tales of life along the Mississippi and Xi said reconnecting with the Iowans who had hosted him in 1985 had been a “joy”.
“And I want to engage with a broad cross-section of American society to help deepen the relationship between the Chinese and American people,” Xi said.
Xi mentioned two Iowa companies by name — Principal and Pioneer — and spoke of other “flourishing” trade ties between China and Iowa.
“Earlier today at the Sino-America Agricultural Products Trade and Cooperation Symposium held in Des Moines, the two sides signed 15 soybean purchase agreements whose total value reached $4.3 billion U.S. dollars,” Xi told the crowd.
Mark Jackson of Rose Hill, the president-elect of the Iowa Soybean Association, said it shows the “seeds that were planted” during Xi’s first visit to Iowa are starting to bear fruit.
“It’s just an outstanding opportunity for us,” said Jackson, who was one of the guests at tonight’s banquet.
North central Iowa businessman Steve Sukup was also in tonight’s statehouse crowd. Sukup first met Xi in 1985.
“There was a presence about him,” Sukup said. “We remember the visit. He came to the factory.” Sukup Manufacturing in Sheffield makes grain-handling equipment and Sukup last night wore on his jacket lapel three of the pins Xi gave Sukup as a gift back in 1985.
Governor Branstad extended banquet invitations to dozens of Iowa businesspeople like Sukup as well as every member of Iowa’s legislature and the top judges in Iowa’s court system. Iowa Supreme Court Justice Thomas Waterman said it was “neat” to be included.
“I thought it was a wonderful evening for Iowa and for America and, I tell you, just the rewards of Iowans just being ourselves and being nice and hospitable to people — 1985 and look what happens,” Waterman said after the banquet. “There’s a lesson here for everybody.”
Last this afternoon Xi had tea in Muscatine with 17 of the people he met in Iowa during a visit here in 1985. Joan Axel helped plan and host Xi’s previous trip and she was there today for the reunion.
“He remembered every picnic. He remembered the home in which he stayed, what the room looked like that was some teenager’s room,” Axel said. “He reminded us that we were the first Americans he had ever met.”
Dick Maeglin helped host Xi and the rest of the Chinese delegation during that trip in the mid ’80s and he described today’s reunion as something special.
“Each of the old friends introduced themselves and told what they remembered. He talked about their children and sometimes he would recite something that one of the people who was involved didn’t even remember,” Maeglin told reporters afterwards.
Xi will appear early Thursday morning at an agriculture symposium in Des Moines and visit a central Iowa farm before he leaves for Los Angeles, his last U.S. stop before returning to China.
(This story was updated at 11:30 p.m. with additional information from Muscatine.)