The diplomatic red carpet rarely extends as far as Muscatine, Iowa, an industrious town of 23,000 on the banks of the Mississippi. But it did this week for Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping, who paid a return visit to the town where in 1985 as a provincial official he led a trade mission to learn more about American farming practices.
Xi appears to be the heir apparent as leader of China, which is why he was given star treatment in Washington, D.C. with visits with President Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hilary Clinton.
But in Muscatine, the visit was described by the mayor as a reunion of old friends.
Xi stayed two nights in the small Iowa town a quarter century ago, sleeping on the floor of a local boy's bedroom festooned with Star Trek figurines. Eleanor Dvorchak, Xi's host and breakfast companion in 1985, now lives in Florida. She flew back to Muscatine for Xi's return trip, bringing with her a copy of "Obama on the Couch" with an inscription she had written in Chinese.
Other Muscatine residents recalled the 1985 visit exuded an exotic quality because China was just emerging from its international shell. Then, as now, most Muscatine residents were white. Just a handful of Asian Americans live there. The visit this week had a different complexion as U.S.-Chinese relations have grown and at times clashed.