Back in 1985, Sarah Lande, then director of Iowa’s Sister States program, hosted a potluck for a delegation from Hebei Province, China, in the quaint town of Muscatine, Iowa. Among the guests was a young Chinese official named Xi Jinping, who would later become the president of China and a formidable adversary of the U.S.
Now, almost four decades later, Sarah Lande and President Xi are set to reunite at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in San Francisco. The meeting will see Xi engaging with President Biden on critical issues such as trade, Taiwan, and China’s recent deployment of a spy balloon. However, the day will also include a lighter moment as Xi attends a dinner hosted by Lande with 300 other guests, including prominent American business and tech leaders.
Back in the day, Lande had welcomed Xi and his delegation to her home in Muscatine. The visit was part of the Sister State program between Iowa and Hebei Province, aimed at fostering international relations. The menu, as Lande recalls, included traditional Iowa roast pork, green bean casserole, and homemade chocolate chip cookies.
Xi, who was then a rising political figure, was in the U.S. to learn about American farming and food processing techniques. Lande fondly remembers Xi as a cheerful character, full of enthusiasm and a keen desire to learn. Despite the language barrier, Xi was eager to immerse himself in American culture, even managing to try his hand at driving a truck during his tour of the local grain and livestock farms.
According to Lande, the warmth and hospitality of the Iowans left a deep impression on Xi, who told her, “You are America.” The pair met again in 2012, shortly after Xi became China’s president, solidifying a lifelong appointment. That same year, Lande and several other Iowans were invited to China by Xi and his wife, Peng Liyuan, for a grand banquet.
Despite her friendship with Xi, Lande doesn’t hesitate to voice her concerns about his policies. She wishes for a peaceful coexistence between the U.S. and China and sees potential in their cooperation. She also hopes Xi will reconsider his strongman approach and open up to more collaboration and dialogues.
She said, “We can’t let egos get in the way. The world needs the two strongest economies to resolve conflict.” Despite the differences, Lande believes that the two powers need to work together, especially in these challenging times, to address global issues like climate change, food security, and world peace.