Gov. Terry Branstad said Thursday the relationship that has been cultivated with Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping is giving Iowa a “leg up” in developing economic and cultural ties with one of the world’s superpowers.
Xi’s Iowa ties date back to 1985, when he visited the state as a local party leader from Hebei – a Chinese province that will be celebrating the 30th anniversary of its sister-state relationship with Iowa next year. During a return trip to Iowa in February, the Chinese leader invited the governor and a delegation of about 20 “old friends” to visit his country for a reunion – a trip that wrapped up earlier this week.
Branstad said Xi – who is expected to become China’s next president — has “very positive personal feelings of kinship” toward Iowa stemming from his previous experiences, which is very important in the Chinese system.
“He’s very positively predisposed towards Iowa. That I think gives up a leg up over other places in terms of doing business with them. We think that’s a very positive thing,” said Branstad, who was still feeling some of the jet lag effects of his overseas trip back to Iowa Tuesday.
The governor returned with a photo album assembled at Xi’s request, a replica of a Chinese space station and many fond memories of a trip that included an elaborate state dinner honoring the Iowa visitors, a stop at the Forbidden City, a tour of a Hebei province farm operation, a visit to an English-speaking high school with Iowa ties, and a certificate verifying that Branstad climbed the Great Wall.
“It was a fun trip,” he said. “It was the trip of a lifetime.”
While in China, Branstad attended the grand opening of Pella-based Vermeer Corp.’s customer service facility for a manufacturing operation that employs about 200 people, and he hosted a dinner for Chinese buyers of $4.3 billion of soybeans announced during Xi’s Iowa visit in February. Interest in making investments in Iowa has grown “dramatically” among Chinese businesses since Xi’s Iowa visit, with several companies looking at making direct investments in Iowa, especially in the biosciences and food processing areas, he said.
“We think there is a potential for some direct investment here. There seems to be a real interest on the part of the government to encourage that at this time,” Branstad said.