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Sino-US seeds of friendship bearing fruit

By LINDA DENG in Tacoma, Washington | China Daily Global | Updated: 2022-12-30 09:25
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File photo: President Xi Jinping receives a custom No 1 Lincoln Abes' game jersey with his name on it on Sept 23, 2015. [Photo/Xinhua]

Xi's visits to American cities over the years established firm foundation for bilateral ties

Years after the seeds of friendship between the peoples of China and the United States were sown by President Xi Jinping with visits to US cities, the seeds have taken root and blossomed, with more exchanges launched for the young generations.

In 1993, Xi visited Tacoma, Washington, while serving as Party secretary of Fuzhou, Fujian province. He oversaw the signing of a sister-city agreement between the cities a year later. From then on, the two cities have increasingly held exchanges on culture and education.

The state of Washington in the Pacific Northwest region of the US is the hometown of Boeing, Microsoft, Amazon and Starbucks. It is also the only state to have hosted four Chinese leaders, and one of two US states where Xi has made many "old friends".

On Sept 23, 2015, during his first state visit to the US as president of China, Xi revisited Tacoma and made a one-hour stopover at Lincoln High School, which was a big hit among the students. He talked to the students, brought a ping-pong table and books on China, and later sent a personal invitation for 100 of the students to visit China.

In 2016, one month after students from the high school returned from their 11-day trip to China, they received a letter from Xi that was brought to them by Luo Linquan, then Chinese consul general in San Francisco.

The school's principal, Pat Erwin, read the English version of the letter to the students and called it a "heartwarming and great moment".

In the letter, Xi said: "Young people are the future and hope of a country, and friendship between the people of our two countries needs to be carried forward by the younger generation. We hope the students will share their experience and impressions of China with people around them, so that more Americans will get to know China better."

The torch of friendship was passed on to a new generation.

The school has arranged visits to China every year, and students have visited cities including Beijing, Shanghai and Fuzhou, as well as Chengdu and Dujiangyan in Sichuan province.

In July 2019, Lincoln High School students completed their most recent visit to China before the COVID-19 pandemic. They participated in the International Youth Interactive Friendship Camp in Shanghai and learned about traditional Chinese culture through lessons and outdoor activities with local volunteers.

"It is a life-changing experience, both in terms of the travel itself, and exposure to the culture, the history and the Chinese people," said Erwin, the Lincoln High principal.

In March 2021, Erwin got a second message from Xi, after he had sent a letter to the Chinese president ahead of the Chinese New Year. In the letter, Erwin extended his festive wishes to Xi and briefed him about the exchanges between his school and China over the past years.

In response, Xi encouraged students at the school to build a bridge for people-to-people exchanges between the two countries.

At the beginning of this year, Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards sent a letter to Xi, wishing him and the people of China a happy New Year and offering congratulations on, and wishes for the success of, the Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games. Xi replied to Woodards, expressing his hope to continue the friendship between China and the city.

Iowa, in the heartland of the US, is another US state where the seeds of friendship have taken root through visits by the Chinese president over the past 37 years.

In 1985, Xi, then Party secretary of Zhengding county in Hebei province, led a five-person agricultural delegation to the city of Muscatine, Iowa.

During a recent online high-level US-China agricultural dialogue, Terry Branstad, former US ambassador to China and former governor of Iowa, recalled how the delegation communicated with local farmers about agricultural technology, experienced the daily life of Iowans and visited the Mississippi River during their two-week visit.

Sarah Lande, then president of the Iowa Sister State Friendship Committee, hosted Xi at her house and arranged for Xi to sleep in the Star Trek-themed bedroom of Gary Dvorchak, a son of her friend, who was away at college. The property of the Dvorchaks was named Sino-US Friendship House by the city government in September 2015.

Lande described her impression of Xi as a man "who was bright, curious, well-mannered, fun and friendly, who had a smile that transcended into lasting friendship".

When Xi visited the US in February 2012 as China's vice-president, he returned to Iowa and met with Lande and other "old friends" at her home in Muscatine.

More recently, Lande, who was honored in 2013 as a Friendship Ambassador by the Chinese People's Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries, wrote a letter to Xi, extending gratitude for his friendship with old friends and expressing her hope that the two countries will continue deepening people-to-people and cultural exchanges and enhance understanding and mutual trust. With the letter, Lande enclosed a special gift — a copy of her memoir "Old Friends": The Xi Jinping-Iowa Story.

In May, Lande received Xi's reply letter, in which the Chinese president encouraged her to make new contributions to friendly exchanges between the Chinese and US people.

The Chinese and American people are both great people, and their friendship is not only a valuable asset, but also an important foundation for the development of bilateral relations, Xi wrote.

Kenneth Quinn, former president of the World Food Prize Foundation and former US ambassador to Cambodia, told China Daily that the bonds forged between Xi and Iowans prove that the US and China, which have quite different philosophies of governance, can have a genuinely friendly relationship.

On April 29, Chinese Ambassador to the US Qin Gang published an article titled "A Journey to the Heartland and to My Heart" in the Des Moines Register, an Iowa newspaper. In the article, Qin said that the seeds of friendship first sown by President Xi have taken root, sprouted, blossomed and borne fruit in Iowa.

"China and the United States are natural partners for agricultural trade.... Our cooperation should not just be about 'buy and sell'; it can go deep into agricultural technology, climate action and sustainable development. Economic and trade ties, especially those in agriculture, are the ballast of China-US relations, and the American business community and farmers are the backbone of a stable China-US relationship," Qin wrote.

Meanwhile, the "Sarah and Roger Lande Scholars" Program has been established by the joint efforts of The Muscatine-China Initiatives Committee, the Sarah D. Lande Friendship Education Fund and Pin Ni, a Chicago businessman and president of Wanxiang America Corp. With a $500,000 grant donated by Wanxiang to the program, students in the Muscatine School District and Muscatine Community College can apply for a four-week immersion program in China during the summers of 2023 and 2024.

Lande was excited about the opportunity to carry forward the friendship between Muscatine and China with the younger generations.

"We're going to work to get more opportunities for young people to go back and forth," she said. "And more opportunities for people from China and the US to get along and to get together with one another, because when people get together, then it seems like the barriers come down."

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