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Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping visits Muscatine

BY DORA GROTE | FEBRUARY 16, 2012 6:30 AM

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MUSCATINE — Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, and Muscatine.

The eastern Iowa town of around 20,000 might seem in odd company, but it's no accident that Iowa is one of the stops on Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping's U.S. trip this week.

Xi visited Muscatine — the same town he visited in 1985 — and Des Moines Wednesday night.

"Coming here is really like coming back to home," Xi said during a reception at a Muscatine home, according to a pool report. "You can't even imagine what a deep impression I had from my visit 27 years ago to Muscatine, because you were the first group of Americans that I came into contact with. My impression of the country came from you. For me, you are America."

One expert said the visit has the potential to quell political differences between the countries that cause trade issues. But the trip is important for other reasons, UI political-science Professor Wenfang Tang said.

"A reason for him coming is to show the American public he can be personal, too, and is not just a leader from a far away country who is way above ordinary people," Tang said.

Chuanren Ke, the director of the UI Confucius Institute, agreed.

"This is a chance to see a China leader in action," Ke said at the event. "This kind of visit is to show that he is down to earth. It's a good thing."

Iowa and China have strong ties.

Iowa exported $599 million in goods to China in 2010 and imported $1 billion — making China Iowa's second-largest import trading partner, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

During a toast to Xi Wednesday night, Gov. Terry Branstad — who was also occupied the governor's mansion during the Xi's first visit in 1985 — highlighted the state's trade relationship with China.

"We are proud of our mutually beneficial trading partnerships with China, and Iowa farmers are proud to harvest safe and reliable agricultural products for use by the people of China," Branstad said. "We hope to build upon these partnerships in related areas where Iowa leads the world, such as biotechnology, advanced manufacturing, food processing, and financial services."

Agriculture is playing a major role in this visit as well.

"We export a lot of soybeans and corn and farm machinery to China," said Terry Boles, UI director of the Institute for International Business. "He wants to highlight some of the trade relationships, but he also remembered his time here and wanted to come back."

Agricultural goods aren't the only things passed between China and Iowa: The number of Chinese students studying here has spiked in recent years.

The UI saw an increase of 1,146 Chinese students from 2005 to 2011, and Iowa State University saw an increase of 1,140 during the same time.

Despite the connections, not everyone was pleased with Xi's visit. Tibetans protested the Wednesday event in response to the Chinese government sealing off Tibet to foreigners and journalists after Tibetans demanded freedom.

"Tibet is burning from ongoing manslaughter," said protest spokesman Sangay Taythi, the general secretary of the Tibetan American Foundation of Minnesota. "Tibetans have risen up against Chinese oppression," he said. "We are entirely different from Chinese — our literature, clothing — we have the right to our own identity. We are here today to be the voice of those who have been silenced in Tibet."

But Tang said the protests won't create any changes in Tibet any time soon.

"I think the protesters want to use the opportunity to keep the public awareness of Tibet's lack of human rights and freedom in the American public, primarily," Tang said. "Their purpose is to keep pressure on China to improve human rights in Tibet. But there is no chance for Tibet to be independent in the near future."


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