LOS ANGELES — China's soon-to-be-leader headed to California at the end of his four-day U.S. tour with plans to talk business with Gov. Jerry Brown, tour the Port of Los Angeles, hold a round table with a handful of other governors and maybe even go to a Lakers basketball game.
And, as with his previous travels, Vice President Xi Jinping's focus seems to be on forging relationships.
Xi arrived in Los Angeles on Thursday afternoon after spending the morning in Iowa, where officials from the U.S. and China signed a five-year deal to guide discussions on food security, food safety and sustainable agriculture. China became the top market for U.S. agricultural goods last year, purchasing $20 billion in U.S. agricultural exports, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Xi, expected to become president next year of the world's most populous nation, climbed into the cab of a John Deere tractor at a 4,000-acre farm near Des Moines and chatted with fifth-generation farmer Rick Kimberley. He asked detailed questions about farming techniques in Iowa, the nation's largest producer of corn and soybeans.
"He said the tractor really felt comfortable. He really enjoyed that," Kimberley said after the visit.
It was a reunion of sorts for Xi, who nearly three decades ago visited Iowa to study agricultural techniques and learn about corn production. He'd insisted on the stop in Iowa, and the farm visit capped the Midwest leg of his visit to the United States.
Xi was joined by U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and China Minister of Agriculture Han Changfu during the symposium. In his opening remarks, he said agriculture was an essential industry.
"Food security, energy security and financial security are three main areas of economic security in today's world," he said. "To promote international agricultural and for cooperation from a strategic perspective is of major and long-term significance."
For Los Angeles, Xi's visit will be a reminder of his country's big footprint at the busiest port in the United States — nearly 60 percent of the imports moving through the Port of Los Angeles come from China, $120 billion worth of computers, TVs, sneakers and other goods last year.
But the visit comes at a politically challenging time in U.S.-China relations, with the White House sending stern messages on currency and trade policies and Republican presidential candidates claiming President Barack Obama isn't doing enough to keep America competitive with the Chinese economy.
The Asian power sells four times as many goods to the U.S. as the United States sends in return to China. The U.S. shipped $13.5 billion in exports to China through the Los Angeles port last year.
In a carefully scripted event, Xi is expected to take a short walking tour through the China Shipping terminal, which sprawls over nearly 100 acres, with Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Brown. China is the leading trading partner in the port, in exports and imports.
"China has been our fastest growing export market," said Kenneth Lieberthal, director of the John L. Thornton China Center at the Brookings Institution. "I assume he'll stress this is a two-way street. This is of enormous benefit for both sides."
Brown, a Democrat, said he wants to foster the state's relationship with China's next leader and encourage foreign investment in the state.
"China has trillions of dollars in reserves and they're going to be investing that increasingly throughout the world. I would like to see some of that money come into California for productive investment," the governor told The Associated Press on Wednesday.
Not everyone celebrated the vice president's arrival. The California Fair Trade Coalition, a San Francisco-based nonprofit that supports expanding trade while promoting economic justice, seized on the visit and issued a statement calling on Brown to "address China's predatory trade practices."
"The economic potential for trade with China is massive, but if they aren't forced to level the playing field, this can only be a losing proposition for U.S. workers," said coalition director Tim Robertson.
Much of Xi's visit, which began earlier this week in Washington, D.C., has been focused on agriculture. The strategic cooperation agreement signed by Han and Vilsack on Thursday afternoon outlines mutual goals and responsibilities of each nation and details how the U.S. and China will address issues of food safety, security, sustainability and trade that are common to both.
"It charts the course and gives us a guiding document that we can reference and, over time, refine and improve," said Scott Sindelar, the agricultural minister counselor at the U.S. embassy in Beijing, who attended the Des Moines conference. "The environment that we deal with is constantly changing and it's important that we have these kinds of reference points for the programs that we do have."
Holding the first ever symposium on agriculture at such a high level and in conjunction with the visit of Xi has provided an unprecedented opportunity for the agricultural economies of both nations, Sindelar said.
Vilsack also called the symposium a historic opportunity and said one of the strongest links in the countries' relationship is centered on agriculture. According to the USDA, the value of U.S. farm exports to China supported more than 160,000 American jobs last year across a variety of business sectors.
He also said the two nations will have to work together to help feed a growing global population.Comment on this story
"We have the responsibility and opportunity to work together to address the causes of global hunger that effect more than 925 million people. Current populations trends mean that we must increase agricultural production by 70 percent in the year 2050 to feed nearly 9 billion people," he said.
Chinese agriculture minister Han said the agreement provides key areas in which the two countries can promote steady development of agriculture, and he believes the discussions will deepen China-U.S. agricultural exchanges and cooperation.
"They will make our agricultural sectors better developed, rural areas more prosperous and our farmers better off," he said.