China's leader-to-be has old friends in Iowa

Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping to return to Muscatine, Iowa, where he led an agricultural delegation 27 years ago.
CBS News

On Wednesday, China Vice President Xi Jinping will do something that every serious presidential candidate does in this country -- he'll visit Iowa. CBS News correspondent Wyatt Andrews in Muscatine tells us Xi just wants to catch up with some old friends.

It was 27 years ago when Xi Jinping -- the man who might lead China -- led a six-man agriculture delegation to Muscatine, Iowa.

Sitting on a bend of the Mississippi, Muscatine has huge grain-processing plant, but small town values. So Sarah Lande, who organized the visit, booked Mr Xi in the spare room of a friend.

"He was treated just like one of us," she remembered.

"He stayed in a room with Star Wars wallpaper?" Andrews asked.

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"Yes that's right," said Lande,"just in the kid's room!"

For three days Lande took him on tour to the hog farms, to the Heinz ketchup plant, to the grain mills. She recalled him as warm and always smiling.

"And when you say he always had a smile on his face -- I need to hear your take -- a politician smile?" asked Andrews.

"No, not like this (smiling widely) all the time, no," she said. "He just seemed to be a happy, contented person there."

"He was very inquisitive. We had fun," said Doyle Turbandt, now the President of Muscatine Foods. He gave a tour to Xi, who wanted to know everything about Iowa corn. In 1985, he was the provincial manager of the animal feed supply.

"He was very easy to be around. Very genuine, very sincere," said Turbandt. "Did I know he was gonna rise to be President of China, absolutely not."

Which explains why the residents of Muscatine didn't see his visit coming. They all remembered Xi, but had no idea he'd grown powerful.

"Wow. Wow. And I thought, 'What a wonderful opportunity we are going to have here to meet him,'" said Lande.

The visit will begin with tea and with one rule: The only guests are the 17 people Xi met and knew in 1985. He hasn't said why, but they are all the people who treated him as someone of great importance long before he knew that's who he would be.

  • Wyatt Andrews
    Wyatt Andrews

    Wyatt Andrews is a CBS News National Correspondent based in Washington D.C. He is responsible for tracking trends in politics, health care, energy, the environment and foreign affairs.