MUSCATINE, Iowa — Forget ping-pong diplomacy. That’s so 1970s.
These days, Muscatine residents interested in furthering U.S.-China relations are practicing dumpling diplomacy.
After spending time with Gov. Terry Branstad, a group of six officials from Heibei Province in China — who will be in Iowa to celebrate 30 years of sister state relations — will head to the Muscatine home of Roger and Sarah Lande. There they’ll continue to celebrate the Chinese New Year, an important holiday, on Wednesday, Feb. 13.
It’ll be one year to the month that Xi Jinping, now general secretary of the Communist Party of China, paid a well-documented visit to the Landes and the other “Old Friends” he made during a 1985 visit to the Pearl City while he himself was a provincial official.
This time, the half-dozen officials from Heibei Province want to show a select crowd how to make Chinese dumplings, an important ingredient for celebrating the Chinese New Year.
The Chinese cooking lessons on the evening of Wednesday, Feb. 13, will be followed by a quintessential American tradition — a potluck.
“We will see how it all cooks out,” Sarah Lande said.
Tony Joseph, president of the Mayor’s Muscatine-China Initiatives Committee, said the group’s three-day stay in Muscatine will also afford local business leaders multiple opportunities to talk with the delegation “to see if we can come up with some business transactions for Muscatine and Heibei.”
Members of the delegation “want a tour like Xi Jinping took in 1985,” said Muscatine Mayor DeWayne Hopkins, who was part of Muscatine’s November 2012 delegation to China. “These people are choosing to befriend us, and it opens up a huge opportunity here.”
This month’s visiting delegation is only part of what’s shaping up to be a fruitful and educational partnership between Muscatine and the people of China, many of whom are curious about the Mississippi River community that made such an impression on the then-young agriculture official who would grow up to be their nation’s next leader.
Through a little diplomacy of their own, members of the Mayor’s Muscatine-China Initiatives Committee have worked to establish further cultural, business and educational exchanges with the Chinese.
First up: A pair of Muscatine High School Chinese language students, Jenny Juehring and Michael Cox, will join orchestra instructor Jonathan Thoma next month on a music exchange to China’s Zhending County.
That same month, a delegation from Zhending County will be in Muscatine to formalize the Sister City relationship between the two communities. Zhending County is located in Heibei Province.
This summer, about 16 students from Muscatine High School and Muscatine Community College — and three people accompanying them — will spend four weeks at Wanxiang Polytechnic University in Hangzhou, China.
The students have not yet been selected.
As part of the U.S. State Department’s “100,000 Strong” initiative, the students will spend half of each day studying Chinese language and culture and the other half learning about clean energy, including fuel cells, electric cars, and wind and solar energy.
They’re being supported by the Wanxiang Group of Hangzhou and Wanxiang American Corp. of Elgin, Ill., which was visited last week by MCC’s interim president, Bob Allbee, and Bill Decker, Muscatine school superintendent.
“This is a wonderful opportunity for students to study abroad, experience a new culture and have a potentially life-changing experience,” Allbee said. “We are excited to have this opportunity for students at MCC and MHS.”
The rate that people-to-people inroads are being made between communities in the U.S. and China is a bit dizzying, even for the mayor of the Pearl City, who acquitted himself well playing table tennis during his trip to China last year.
“It’s unbelievable. We’re moving along at a ridiculous rate of speed,” Hopkins said Friday. “We’re all pretty excited with everything going on.”