China’s love affair with Iowa blossoms this week with an astounding $1 billion in cooperative research investments and celebrations in Muscatine and Des Moines of the state’s 30-year relationship with the Hebei province.

Leaders from America’s biggest financial stakeholder positively gush about Iowa and Muscatine specifically.

“Muscatine is even more beautiful than I thought,” said Zhou Benshun, party secretary of Hebei Committee of the Communist Party of China. Benshun was in Muscatine last weekend to honor Sarah Lande, whose cultural curiosity and Iowa hospitality helped cultivate this rich international connection. We’re thrilled to see this relationship prosper with a nation too often vilified simply for investing in America. We welcome the new Iowa-China business partnerships and hope more of Muscatine inspires these international guests.

Chinese visitors laud Muscatine’s famous sunsets and neighborly warmth. One impressed visitor even made an unsolicited $180,000 bid on the home at 2911 Bonnie Drive, where Chinese President Xi Jinping stayed briefly in 1985 when he was a party leader from Zhengding county in the Hebei province.

The new owner intends for the home to draw Chinese tourists eager to see what drew Xi from Hebei to Muscatine. Hebei is a sprawling province of 72 million people, equivalent in population to 24 Iowas or five Illinois. This week, like most days in urban Hebei, visibility is limited to just a few blocks. Residents breathe through filters needed to reduce particulate matter that makes respiration dangerous.

The international air quality index in Shijiazhuang, Hebei, hit 417 this week, which rates as “hazardous,” just one step away from unhealthy. Muscatine regularly records some of the worst air pollution in Iowa. Muscatine’s worst air quality index reading in 2012 was 200 last year, less than half the current Hebei level. Hebei this week recorded a reading of 350 for particulate matter below 2.5 micrometers. That’s the fine dust that can cause lung problems. Muscatine’s worst particulate reading of 2012 was 287.

Those Muscatine readings are enough to threaten industrial expansion under EPA guidelines. But visitors from Hebei literally find a breath of fresh air in Muscatine. That’s because U.S. regulations leave no room for the kind of reckless pollution that forces tens of millions of our newfound Chinese friends to include face masks as part of their daily attire.

Quad-City Times

Oct. 23, 2013

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