Chinese leader visits Iowa, Calif. to forge bonds

By Noaki Schwartz

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, Feb. 16 2012 3:50 p.m. MST

Pro-Tibet supporter Tseyang Tsering hold fake prison bars as she protests outside the China Mart offices in Los Angeles on Thursday, Feb. 16, 2012. The group was demonstrating against the Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping's visit to the United States. Xi Jinping's visit to Los Angeles 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.

Damian Dovarganes, Associated Press

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.

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