Iowa homecoming awaits Chinese leader

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The last time China’s next president visited the United States, he bunked in the spare bedroom of a small-town Iowa home, replete with football wallpaper, a window’s view of an old iron basketball hoop and “Star Wars” figurines on the dresser.

It was a 1985 slice of Americana that must have felt exotic to Xi Jinping, then a middle-level bureaucrat sent to the Hawkeye State to see whether its hog-raising techniques could be imported to his country.

The experience left an impression on Mr. Xi, who now is vice president of the world’s most populous nation.

When Xi Jinping returns to the United States this week, he will do so as the man slated to take over China’s presidency next year. He will meet with President Obama on Tuesday.

The question is whether the 58-year-old Mr. Xi, whose style differs markedly from that of President Hu Jintao, will signal a new era of U.S.-Chinese relations.

If his itinerary provides any clue, the answer may be yes: After being received at the White House, Mr. Xi will head to Iowa to visit the families who hosted him 27 years ago.

While Mr. Xi clearly has an affinity for certain things American (his daughter is an undergraduate student at Harvard University), his decision to visit Iowa during a high-level diplomatic trip hints at rare emotion for one whose nation’s leaders are notoriously reserved.

It might symbolize an openness for the American way of doing things. Or it could be just propaganda.

As with much of Chinese foreign policy, the truth is probably a bit of both, say analysts, who compare Mr. Xi to former President Deng Xiaoping.

Xi Jinping is a ‘Dengist,’ ” said Michael J. Green, an Asia analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies who served on the National Security Council during the early 2000s. “He essentially, I think, follows the Deng Xiaoping line of pragmatism.”

Deng departed from diplomatic business as usual on a U.S. visit in 1979, when he donned a cowboy hat and went to a rodeo. Whether the gesture had some deeper meaning is anyone’s guess.

Deng later became known for the economic policies that opened communist China to foreign investment and the global capitalist marketplace. He also oversaw human rights atrocities in China, including the 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators in Tiananmen Square.

As the Obama administration searches for clues from Mr. Xi’s background, a recent Congressional Research Service report noted that he spent 17 years “rising through the ranks of economically dynamic Fujian Province.” He also paid his political dues from 2002 to 2007 in “Zhejiang Province, an export hub known for its freewheeling private businesses.”

Such experiences could come in handy for Mr. Xi’s future efforts to maintain Chinese economic growth in an era of global market insecurity.

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About the Author
Guy Taylor

Guy Taylor

Guy Taylor is the National Security Team Leader at The Washington Times, overseeing the paper’s State Department, Pentagon and intelligence community coverage. He’s also a frequent guest on The McLaughlin Group and C-SPAN.

His series on political, economic and security developments in Mexico won a 2012 Virginia Press Association award.

Prior to rejoining The Times in 2011, his work was ...

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