BEIJING, Sept. 10 (Xinhua) – Thirty years ago, when a visiting Chinese official slept in Gary Dvorchak’s bedroom while Dvorchak was away at college, no one imagined that the visitor would one day become president of China.
“We never redecorated it, so Xi Jinping was really staying in a room that was decorated for elementary schoolboys,” says Dvorchak, now a business man in Beijing.
He is curious to know how Xi felt, exposed to the typical world of American boys with American football wallpaper and Star Trek models.
It is believed to be Xi’s first trip outside China and perhaps his first and only experience of staying with an American family. He was then a young and promising junior official, leading a five-person agricultural delegation to Muscatine, Iowa. During his stay there, Xi visited farms, joined in a local birthday party and picnicked on a boat with his hosts on the Mississippi River.
The visit seems to have impressed Xi more than anyone anticipated at the time. Almost 27 years later, during a visit to the United States as vice president, Xi had only one personal request on his trip: a stop in Muscatine to visit his “old friends”, including Dvorchak’s parents.
Xi and his delegation flew from Washington, DC directly to Quad City International Airport on Feb. 15, 2012. A motorcade with Xi and a small group of officials then made the 35-mile trip to Muscatine and the home of Roger and Sarah Lande.
The Landes, two of Xi’s “old friends”, hosted Xi for an hour of reminiscing and chatting.
“Even though it was raining, it was a glorious day in Muscatine,” recalls DeWayne Hopkins, mayor of Muscatine.
This short stopover displayed the power of personal diplomacy. Xi told his old friends, “You were the first group of Americans that I came into contact with. My impression of the country came from you. To me, you are America.”
The return to Iowa was seen as evidence of Xi’s intention to connect with ordinary Americans. Such a gesture could be construed as a mere photo opportunity, but his intention has remained consistent throughout his career.
In 1992, when Xi was Party chief of Fuzhou City, southeast China, he helped an American woman fulfill her late husband’s wish.
His connection with Elizabeth Gardner started with a newspaper article about how she had tried in vain to visit a south China town called Guling where her husband, Milton Gardner, was born and spent his childhood.
Milton Gardner, who left China for the United States in 1911, had longed to revisit Guling since the two countries established diplomatic relations in 1979, but he never made the trip due to his failing health.
After he died, his widow made several trips to China in an attempt to find the small town for which her husband had held so much affection, but all failed.
On reading the story, Xi decided to lend a hand. He contacted Mrs. Gardner and invited her to China. With Xi’s help, she finally visited the town in August 1992.
To express her gratitude, Mrs. Gardner sent Xi a pair of traditional Chinese vases kept by her husband for many years. In return, she received a pair of vases from Xi during her trip.
Over the past three decades, Xi has visited the United States six times, perhaps more than any of his predecessors. His American experience extends from the cornfields of Iowa to the Annenberg Retreat at Sunnylands in California.
“President Xi is no stranger to the United States,” U.S. President Barack Obama said when meeting with Xi in June 2013 at Sunnylands.
The meeting took place only three months after Xi took office as President. It had been widely anticipated that Xi would have his first presidential-level talks with Obama at the G20 summit in Russia in September 2013. Xi, however, made it happen earlier by dropping by during his trip to Latin America.
The two leaders reached a consensus on building a new model of China-U.S. relations, which features no conflict, no confrontation, mutual respect, cooperation and common prosperity.
Outside the talks covering serious issues including military relations, cybersecurity and climate change, the two presidents were seen strolling side by side under the desert sun, without jackets or ties, in the finely manicured gardens of the Annenberg estate.
A year later, Xi and Obama held a Beijing version of the “retreat meeting” during the 2014 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Economic Leaders’ Meeting, having in-depth talks in the evening at the Zhongnanhai compound, an area of Beijing known as the heart of the government.
And the two countries announced an ambitious joint plan to curb carbon emissions as well as breakthroughs in visa rules.
Later September, Xi will make his first state visit to the United States. He and Obama will have a full agenda during their formal meetings in the White House. Xi might also talk with prominent politicians and business leaders on other topics.
When Xi went to Muscatine in 1985, he received a fleeting mention in the Muscatine Journal, the only media outlet that noted his visit. Gary Dvorchak’s parents gave him a parting gift of popcorn, and he left behind Chinese liquor in return.
Xi’s upcoming visit will be a focus for media from around the world. Dvorchak says he is wondering what gift Xi will bring to America this time, and what President Obama will give him in return.