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Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger told the Wall Street Journal last year that Mr. Xi is “more assertive than Hu Jintao.”

“When he enters a room, you know there’s a significant presence here,” Mr. Kissinger said.

How that affects his approach to the major issues facing China, including ethnic unrest in the western regions of Xinjiang and Tibet as well as the growing social inequalities and potential food and water shortages for the nation’s 1.3 billion people, is not known.

The extent to which he may expand or pull back from China’s recently intensified crackdown on dissidents also remains to be seen.

Answers to such questions, along with Mr. Xi’s take on Chinese ambitions for military supremacy in Southeast Asia, won’t become clear during his visit, said Kerry Brown, an Asia specialist at Chatham House, the London-based foreign policy think tank.

The goal, said Mr. Brown, is for “American leaders to get to know Mr. Xi, to build the kind of relationship where, when there is a massive disaster on a Sunday night, he can pick up the phone to the American president and the American president can pick up the phone to him.”

But comments by Mr. Xi suggest his assertiveness may sway how China deals with the rest of the world.

“Some bored foreigners have nothing better to do than point their fingers at our affairs,” Mr. Xi said in 2009, as Western leaders pressured Beijing to take a more responsible role in the global economic crisis.

China does not, first, export revolution, second, export poverty and hunger, and third, cause unnecessary trouble,” he said. “What else is there to say?”

Analysts say such brashness should not overshadow his charisma, as they point to Mr. Xi’s upbringing as a source of the success he has had as a Communist Party boss.

His father was close with former revolutionary and dictator Mao Zedong, a distinction that makes Mr. Xi a “princeling” in Chinese political parlance.

But unlike that of other children of former leaders, Mr. Xi’s past has a twist: Mao purged Mr. Xi’s father from politics during the early 1960s and sent him to prison, condemning the Xi family to hardship. As a boy, Mr. Xi spent several years struggling in the ragged hills of northern China. His luck changed when Deng released his father. In the late 1970s, he earned a degree in chemistry from Beijing’s prestigious Tsinghua University.

After a brief stint as a general’s aide with the People’s Liberation Army, he was sent into politics in a heavily agricultural zone outside Beijing - a move that eventually found him in charge of a farming delegation headed for Iowa.

The trip was a collaboration with Iowa political and business leaders who set up the Chinese with local families.

“Someone asked me if we had chopsticks, and I thought, ‘My goodness, no, and where would I have ever gotten them in Muscatine, Iowa, at the time? ” said Eleanor Dvorchak, who hosted Mr. Xi in the bedroom left empty by her two sons who were off at college.

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