Originally Posted Online: Feb. 13, 2012, 7:14 pm
Last Updated: Feb. 13, 2012, 9:01 pm

Future Chinese president visiting Q-C area Wednesday

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By Stephen Elliott, selliott@qconline.com

China's Vice President Xi Jinping

The Quad City International Airport will welcome Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping Wednesday as the presumptive future president of China travels from Washingon, D.C., to Muscatine to visit friends he met 27 years ago.

Bryan Johnson, assistant director of aviation at the airport, said no ceremonies are planned other than a VIP meet and greet.

"There won't be any formal reception or greeting per se," Mr. Johnson said. "Then he is headed for Muscatine.

"It's certainly an honor having him visit the Quad-Cities," Mr. Johnson said.

Mr. Johnson said airport officials became aware of Mr. Jinping's visit about three weeks ago.

Expected to take over the Chinese presidency from Hu Jintao next year, Mr. Xi is scheduled to meet with President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden today. Mr. Johnson said Mr. Xi will arrive at the Quad-Cities airport Wednesday afternoon.

From there, he will travel to Muscatine to visit families he met and stayed with briefly while studying advanced hog-raising techniques in 1985. Such visits are rare, and Mr. Xi, 58, does not want a lot of fanfare when he travels to Muscatine, according to Muscatine Mayor DeWayne Hopkins.

"I think what he's doing is a gorgeous and remarkable act of civility," Mayor Hopkins said Monday. "For a person of his stature to reach out to some old friends, this is an act of civility that we certainly appreciate here in Muscatine."

Mayor Hopkins said he will present Mr. Xi with a key to the city, noting the Chinese vice president also received a key to the city in 1985.

"There will be no time for sightseeing," the mayor said. "It's not a public event; it will be pretty private. He's just coming to visit some friends he made here in 1985."

The mayor noted all the Republican presidential candidates, except Texas Rep. Ron Paul, visited Muscatine. Mr. Xi's visit, Mayor Hopkins said, "trumps them all."

On Wednesday, Mr. Xi will spend about an hour visiting Roger and Sarah Lande, of Muscatine. He had dinner with the family in 1985.

"He was wanting to learn how to use agricultural technology to improve his ability to feed his people," Ms. Lande recalled Monday.

"They were looking at raising leaner hogs," she said. "He was very curious and asked questions."

Ms. Lande said the 1985 meal consisted of Iowa beef and pork. Wednesday's table, she said, will include spring rolls and scallops wrapped in bacon.

She added she has conducted numerous interviews with the media and, despite the hectic pace, is excited by Mr. Xi's visit.

"He's flying in on his own 747," Ms. Lande said. "He's parking it at the Moline airport, and then the motorcade is coming down here to Muscatine.

"We feel he's really gone out of his way for us," she said. "By golly, it's going to be a busy time, but a real honor that he has good memories of his time here."

Augustana perspective

Augustana College President Steve Bahls has made multiple visits to China. In 1994 and 2001, he taught judges at the Shanghai People's Court in China about the rights of shareholders.

"There was a lot of curiousness on shareholder rights, contract law and property law in general," Mr. Bahls said.

"There have been massive changes in China since my first trip," he said. "It has been one of my privileges to be a small part of that transition."

Mr. Bahls returned to China in 2006 with the Augustana Choir. He said he believes Mr. Xi's visit is an important one for the ever-evolving Chinese economy. China's challenges include fair trade, human rights and environmental issues.

He added that, as a young student in Des Moines, he saw former Soviet President Nikita Khruschev drive past his elementary school in the 1950s. Mr. Khruschev used the visit to learn more about American agriculture, Mr. Bahls said.

"My hope is Vice President (Xi) Jinping will have the same experience and learn more about the United States," Mr. Bahls said. "It shouldn't be a one-way street. I know there are things we can learn from Chinese leaders.

"There is certainly a transition in China," he added. "When I arrived in 1994, everyone was riding bicycles to more recently where the country is plagued with traffic jams and pollution concerns. The building in China has been incredible.

"We've seen a willingness of the Chinese people to regard themselves as world citizens," Mr. Bahls said. "It's a great country that has come and long way and certainly has a very bright future."

China native sees changes

Black Hawk College professor Xixuan Collins, a full-time biology instructor who came to America from China 15 years ago, keeps in daily contact with her parents back home via Skype.

Ms. Collins said she believes Mr. Xi's visit is "very significant" to America and the Midwest.

"You don't hear so much about Iowa when you're back in China," she said.

Ms. Collins said China's ever-changing economy is moving fast.

"When I went back to visit, it's a huge difference," she said. "I think by it changing so fast, I kind of felt a little lost.

"If I were to ask (Mr. Xi) a question, I would probably mention something about how good it is to develop a market economy and have society advance materialistically," she said. "But I think you want to make sure people realize, money is not the only thing to worry about."

"I think we (Chinese) also need to retain some of our values and traditions."

The Associated Press contributed to this story.