NEW YORK - As the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China drew to a close this week in Beijing, Sarah Lande, a 74-year-old Muscatine native, was among those who closely watched the transition develop.
The news of China's new leadership, led by Xi Jinping, makes Lande, Xi's American friend, "very excited".
"I believe it is an exciting time for him and for China. I believe he is the type of person that will foster a stronger relationship with the United States," Lande told China Daily.
Lande was one of the host families in 1985 when Xi visited Iowa on a delegation as a young Party official to learn about agricultural techniques in Iowa. For Xi, it was a trip where he started a friendship with a group of American people - a friendship that has lasted nearly three decades.
"It turned out to be a good meeting. It seemed like the friendship struck," Lande recalled.
During Xi's weeklong visit to the US in February, he made a stop in Muscatine, the small Iowa town, to visit Lande's house where 17 friends he met during the 1985 visit were invited.
Lande said Xi's effort to reunite with them after nearly three decades "meant the world" to her.
"He wouldn't have needed to do that (to come to visit us)," she said. "He laughed and remembered the times (in Muscatine), and he truly seemed like a warm, caring, listening person who could tell stories. He is a personal person you like," Lande said of the February gathering.
"We were mystified why we made such an impression and were also figuring if we had this honour of having him again. We as a community will really work hard to try to be an example of how to further that relationship between the two countries," Lande said. "It meant a lot to us."
As the foreign media have been reporting a lot about China's next leadership and Xi, Lande has her own take on her friend.
"He cares about his people. He is a listener and he has had the confidence of being who he is. He is also wise to the challenges that China faces and realises there might be step-by-step changes and also step-by-step relationship building (with the US)," Lande said.
Grant Kimberley, the son of the Kimberley farm owner who met Xi when he visited the family's soybean farm in February, agreed.
"He seems to be a caring, modern, open-minded and a very intelligent person," Kimberley said. "He is someone that listens and understands the interconnectedness of the global economy and its importance."
Kimberley said it is a positive sign for Iowa - a leading producer of soybeans, corn, pork and eggs - that Xi "understands the importance of agricultural trade with Iowa". A thorough understanding, he added, will ensure a safe and stable supply of food for China. "It can serve as the foundation for a positive relationship between the two countries."
Before his departure after the Muscatine visit in February, Xi invited his Iowan friends to visit China. The route of the trip in June, said Lande, was outlined by Xi. Among places the group visited were Shanghai and Hangzhou, Zhejiang province.
In Beijing, Lande and the group were hosted by Xi. Lande recalled she felt special sitting next to Xi at the meeting.
"He values friendship and he believes people-to-people relationships are the basis of a good foreign policy," Lande said.
The friendship with Xi also makes Lande feel responsible to promote more exchanges between the two largest economies at a more local level.
"For one thing, China is our banker, but is also our customer. We can work together and the future can be bright for all of us," she said.