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China’s Xi soft-sells country, revisits rural US

hinese Vice President Xi Jinping, on a visit to the United States this week, made an unusual stop at a rural township in Iowa on Wednesday to meet the American family with whom he had stayed 27 years ago.

He had then come to Muscatine, a town mainly consisting of a farm community, as an official on a research trip to study American agriculture.

This second visit to the US countryside by the senior Chinese leader who is pegged to be the next President of China is being seen as more than just a nostalgic reunion with the family of Eleanor Dvorchak in whose home he had stayed. Iowa, like many other US states, has a healthy trade relationship with China, which depends considerably on the food imports from the US. Though this fact has not yet offset the loss of manufacturing jobs to China, it has exposed a certain vulnerability of China to the US, which builds a good case for interdependence.

The revival of old ties with the farming community of the US came in sharp contrast to the differences that were aired politely in Washington earlier in the week over issues ranging from human rights to trade practices. However, it is felt that in this election year, the Obama administration is unlikely to provide the opponents a chance to criticise it for being "soft on China".

While Xi's visit is being seen as a confidence-building exercise, he succeeded in sending the message that he was wooing the American people, rather than the American leadership. In keeping with that mood, Xi is expected to attend a basketball game in the weekend following his visit to the Western coast.

Experts also believe that the visit would be closely watched back home in China. The Iowa visit brings to fore an informal, softer side to the bilateral relationship, which is expected to catch the attention of the common people, especially farmers and traders, both in China and the US.

Dr Walter Andersen, Director, South Asia Studies Program, School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University, feels that Xi's visit is "more PR than policy".

"Considering the trust deficit between the two countries, this is aimed at building the image of China in the US," Dr Andersen said. "The visit is also very important to Xi in the party as he would like to be seen as a capable leader who is respected in the US."

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