DES MOINES - The vice president of China is spending a good deal of his U.S. trip in Iowa, a state better known for hosting American presidential candidates than major heads of state. So why is this rural place playing such a big role in the leader's historic tour of the United States?
The answer lies in the way Xi Jinping (shee jeen ping) likes to do business - by building personal relationships - and in Iowa's rich agricultural industry, which is closely tied to China's.
"He's very outgoing, very personable," said Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, who met with Xi in 1985, when a Chinese delegation visited Iowa to study farming practices and again last year, when Branstad led a trade mission to China.
China's vice president, Xi Jinping, talks with area residents in the home of Roger and Sarah Lande in Muscatine, Iowa Wednesday. Xi visited farms and local industries in Muscatine in 1985.
"People that meet him like him," the governor said. "He made friends instantaneously in Iowa."
Branstad was two years into his first term as governor in 1985 when he met Xi, who was then a rising communist party leader from an agricultural province in northern China. Both were in their 30s.
When they met again in Beijing, Branstad had returned to the governor's office after a decade out of politics, and Xi had ascended to vice president. He's expected to become China's top leader next year.
A Marshalltown Connection
During Xi Jingping's visit 27 years ago, he was hosted by former Marshalltown woman Sarah (Dunkerton) Lande and her husband, Roger, in Muscatine. She grew up on North Fifth Street in Marshalltown where she lived with her parents and two sisters. Wendell Dunkerton was her father.
At that 2011 meeting, Xi recalled the exact day they had met in 1985, the names of many of Branstad's staff members and some of the people he had met in the small town of Muscatine, where he had visited farms and local industries.
That trip seems to have impressed Xi. And despite having a busy diplomatic schedule that will take him from Washington to California, he insisted on returning Wednesday to Muscatine for a reunion with the people he met 27 years ago.
His delegation drove up to a historic downtown home in the afternoon, and Xi quickly walked through a light rain to the porch, where he was met by Branstad and others. He soon sat down for tea while photographers and video crews recorded the interaction.
Xi will also spend some of Wednesday and Thursday in Des Moines, attending a state dinner hosted by Branstad and other officials and launching the first U.S.-China Agriculture Symposium. He will also visit a farm.
"For us, it's about building relationships, partnerships and continuing friendships," said Rick Kimberley, who will host Xi at his farm near Maxwell, 20 miles northeast of Des Moines. He wants "to prove to China that we are a reliable source of soybeans, corn and pork, and they can depend on us to produce a healthy product."
Xi also wants to learn about farm technology while in Iowa, Branstad said.
Since the fields are covered with snow, Kimberley plans to show Xi combines and planters and to discuss precision farming, which uses GPS-controlled equipment to guide tractors to a within inches of a field's edge.
Kimberley's equipment allows him to precisely control the amount of seed, fertilizer, chemicals and water. That lowers costs, reduces chemical runoff and boosts production.
Biotechnology, including the use of hybrids and genetically modified plants designed to resist pests and disease, may also come up. It's a touchy one with the Chinese, who have been skeptical of genetically modified crops and were slow to approve their use.