Muscatine’s relationship with China has been a great journey of adventure, discovery and friendship. That thread of history runs through our leaders to our people. The United States established full diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China in 1979. Then Iowa Gov. Robert Ray traveled to China in 1979 and met the governor of Guangdong Province, Xi Zhongxun, father of Xi Jinping. In 1980, Xi Zhongxun led a delegation of China governors to the United States that included a stop in Iowa where he was hosted by Gov. Ray. In 1983, Iowa Gov. Terry E. Branstad and Hebei Gov. Zhang Shuguang established a formal State of Iowa Hebei Province Sister State relationship.
In 1984, Muscatine Joni Axel and I joined former Gov. Robert Ray on a three week International Friendship Force trip to China to experience China’s opening to the world. In 1984, Branstad established the Iowa Sister State Friendship Committee (ISSFC) with former Gov. Ray as president to manage and grow Iowa’s Sister State relationships. I served on the ISSFC Board and later as the Executive Director.
In 1985, one of the first delegations from Hebei Province to Iowa was an agricultural delegation led by Xi Jinping. I learned a Chinese delegation was coming to Iowa. I was eager for them to come to Muscatine. Muscatine industries and friends gave a warm welcome with potluck meals, home stays, industry visits and a Kent Feed Boat ride on the Mississippi River. Over the years, many exchanges continued between Hebei Province and the state of Iowa introducing American and Chinese culture to each other’s citizens, building trust, understanding, respect and friendships.
In 2011, Branstad met with Vice President Xi Jinping in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing and invited him to visit Iowa. He said he would like to see his “old friends” (people he met in 1985). Branstad called me Jan. 8, 2012, and said Vice President Xi was coming to Iowa and inquired if the Landes would host a gathering in Muscatine. On Feb. 15, 2012, a blazing fire awaited a reunion of Xi Jinping with old friends in the Lande home. Old friends, Branstad and Xi Jinping shared memories of the 1985 visit to Muscatine. Xi Jinping stated, “Coming here is really like coming back home. You cannot even imagine the deep impression I had from my visit 27 years ago, because you were the first Americans I came in contact with. My impression of America came from you. For me, you are America.” He invited us to be his guests in China.
We traveled to China in April 2012. Xi Jinping expressed the importance of exchanges in all areas: education, sports, government, business, arts, culture and especially people to people exchanges. Our countries need to know and understand each other to build trust and respect. Xi Jinping related in the next 10 years if our countries can collaborate in mutually beneficial ways and there will be a much greater opportunity for peace and prosperity in the world community.
Upon the "Old Friends" return, the Mayor’s Muscatine China Initiative’s Committee (MMCI) was formed to implement projects and goals focusing on friendship, education, business and trade.
Later in 2012, Ye Changqing, executive vice president of the Hebei Peoples Association of Friendship with Foreign Countries (HPAFFC), suggested Muscatine explore a sister city with Zhengding County, the county where Xi Jinping served as Party Chief when he visited Muscatine in 1985. In November 2012, Mayor DeWayne Hopkins led the delegation of Tony Joseph, president of the Mayor’s Muscatine China Initiative; Deb Hutton, president of Muscatine Sister Cities; Sarah Lande, "Old Friend" of Xi Jinping; and Albert Liu, vice president of Asian sales for MUSCO; to China to explore a sister city relationship with Zhengding County and Muscatine. The Delegation visited US Embassy in Beijing and met with Gary Locke, U.S. Ambassador to China.
Our friendship with China is rich with opportunities for the future. Please join in the People to People fun and friendship with China and our sister city in Zhengding County, Hebei Province China.