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Why is China's Xi Jinping going to Iowa?

China's heir apparent, Xi Jinping, will return to Iowa Wednesday. Xi spent a week in Muscatine, Iowa, in 1985, and will be feted upon his return.

By David PittAssociated Press / February 15, 2012

A light snow covers the streets of Muscatine, Iowa, Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2012. China's likely future leader Xi Jinping will travel to Iowa Wednesday and Thursday.

(AP Photo/Robert Ray)

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Des Moines, Iowa

The last time China's soon-to-be leader visited Iowa, he slept in a bedroom with green shag carpeting and Star Trek character cutouts on the walls. He ate eggs with a spoon because his host forgot the chopsticks.

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But apparently Xi Jinping remembered the 1985 stay fondly because he insisted on returning Wednesday and Thursday to Muscatine, a small farming community he toured to learn about crop and livestock practices.

Back then, he was a young Communist Party leader seeking ideas to help his agriculture-rich region of northern China. Now the nation's vice president, he made certain to add Muscatine to his itinerary so he could reunite with the same Americans who showed him around the region's hog and cattle operations and its abundant corn and soybean fields.

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"I'm flabbergasted that he would take time out of his busy schedule and come back to Muscatine," said Eleanor Dvorchak, whose family hosted Xi for two nights.

Although Dvorchak and her husband have since moved to Florida, they planned to return Wednesday for Xi's hour-long visit, and several other local farmers and residents he encountered will be there, too.

Some local officials were encouraged that agriculture — and specifically Iowa agriculture — was to play such a prominent part in a trip by the future leader of the world's most populous country.

"It sends a signal that the new leader is not a stranger to the U.S. and that he has experience and familiarity with America by reaching right into the heartland," said David Shorr, a foreign-policy specialist at the Stanley Foundation, a Muscatine-based nonprofit that focuses on promoting peace and international relations.

Xi is expected to ascend to his nation's highest office in the next year and could lead China over the next decade. Xi got a lengthy Oval Office audience with President Barack Obama, an elaborate reception at the State Department, full military honors at the Pentagon, a gathering with chief business executives and an invitation for dinner at Vice President Joe Biden's house. He will fly to Iowa following the Washington visit and will later stop in California.

China has become an increasingly important trading partner for the United States. It purchased $20 billion in U.S. agriculture exports last year, making it the top buyer of farm goods.

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