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China's heir apparent bigger than Pope: Iowa governor
by Staff Writers
Chicago (AFP) Feb 6, 2012

The upcoming visit of Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping, the growing Asian power's likely next leader, is going to be the biggest thing that's happened to Iowa since Pope John Paul II visited in 1979, the farm state's governor said Monday.

"I'd say it ranks with the Pope's visit to Living History Farm and (Soviet premier Nikita) Khrushchev's visit here to Iowa in 1959," Governor Terry Branstad told reporters.

The Pope's visit drew 350,000 people while Khrushchev's tour of a farm in Coon Rapids, helped humanize the superpowers at the height of the Cold War.

"This one I think for the economic future of our state is even more significant," Branstad said.

Iowa's exports to China have soared in recent years as the Asian power's rising middle class buys more pork, corn, soybeans and other agricultural products from the US Midwest.

Branstad hopes to draw even more business thanks to the state's "personal relationship" with Xi, who spent several days there when he was a low-ranking local official on an exchange.

The long-time Iowa governor returned the visit last year, and was amazed to hear that Xi had kept the itinerary from the 1985 trip and spoke fondly of his hosts and the people he'd met there.

Xi will be reunited with his former hosts in Musatine, Iowa on February 15 before heading to Des Moines for a state dinner.

Xi meets with President Barack Obama on February 14 and is expected to deliver a speech in Washington before heading to Iowa. He is also expected to visit Los Angeles on February 16 and 17.

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