Enduring bond fosters Sino-US relationship

By May Zhou (China Daily) 08:38, April 01, 2024

Sarah Lande

At the age of 85, Sarah Lande, a longtime resident of Muscatine, a small city in the US state of Iowa, continues to play an important role in promoting people-to-people exchanges between China and the United States through her personal ties with President Xi Jinping.

Lande hosted a dinner for Xi when he first visited Muscatine as a county-level official in 1985. The warm welcome that Xi received from her and other Muscatine residents made such a lasting impression on him that, 27 years later, when Xi made a state visit to the US in 2012 as China's vice-president, he detoured to Muscatine to see the people who had welcomed him to their homes.

The friendship was renewed and deepened, and continues to flourish to this day. Lande, along with some other people from Iowa, became what Xi has affectionately referred to as his "old friends" in the US. Many of them have since traveled between China and the US to facilitate the bilateral exchanges.

When Xi went to San Francisco to attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in November, he invited them to meet him for another reunion.

"Some of the old friends were from Iowa, some were special friendships over the years with China. So there were about 30 of us ... that were invited and decided to go," Lande said.

Xi had a special reception with the small group. "Each of us had an opportunity to have a personal handshake and one-minute discussion with him," Lande said. "He just didn't have a smile ever come off his face. It makes us hopeful that our countries can find a way to get along and compete."

The group also attended a dinner party with more than 200 people from the US, at which Xi spoke. "He was encouraging more people-to-people exchange, said the youth are our future, and introduced the idea of this program that over the next five years, (China) would sponsor 50,000 young people from America to go to China."

Lande wrote Xi a thank-you note after the meeting. "At the end, I said that I admired his generous offer to bring students from the US to China, and I hope a few of our students from Muscatine could participate."

Soon the reply came. "I received a letter from him saying yes, (he) would enjoy having some people from Muscatine to visit. And what would you know, by the second week in January, 24 people from Muscatine had been invited and were on their way to China to participate in a gathering of young people in China and young people in America," Lande said.

"They just had a wonderful time. I would say a certain percentage of them had never been out of the US. Some hadn't been out of the state of Iowa.

"Probably few of the students that went over could have afforded a ticket. So we're opening their eyes to the world. They're going to be our young future leaders, I think," Lande said.

The results of such exchanges were immediate. Many students said the trip helped them to know China better. One student, Apollo Hayes, said that because of the trip, she became interested in pursuing advanced studies at a college in China.

Lande said such exchanges are important. "When these kids' parents hear what they've seen and learned, maybe they think, well, let's try to find some ways to work together or just turn off the negatives and respect China for more than you see in the paper."

"We probably are competing in many ways, but my response is, well then compete. America, be the best you can, China, be the best you can, and find a way if the difference is too big, talk it out or try to figure it out."

Lande said that the world's two largest economies need to work together to address serious problems facing the world, "and find where we can work together".

The "old friends" connection made Muscatine a focal point for US-China exchanges. Lande said that Muscatine recently received a delegation from Hebei province, and another delegation followed two weeks after that.

Meanwhile, another 50 students are preparing to visit China in April. The Muscatine football team has been invited by Hebei, Iowa's sister province.

Muscatine is also receiving reciprocal groups of youths from China, according to Lande. The Iowa city supports the exchanges with homestays or by getting help from the community.

Lande said of Xi: "When he came back in 2012, when he walked in the door, the smiles just wouldn't stop. And he still has that smile."

Lande said she is surprised as well as humbled by the friendship she has with Xi and by how the friendship has fueled people-to-people exchanges between the two countries.

When Xi first visited in 1985, "China was just opening up a little, and we were eager to see people from China," she added.

Lande first went to China in 1984 as part of a three-week friendship exchange program. "At that time, no cars, only bikes." She has since visited China a few times more, including a trip right before the pandemic.

(Web editor: Tian Yi, Liang Jun)


Related Stories