Published: 10:26, April 23, 2024
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US friend hails Xi's respect in 39-year bond
By Zhang Yunbi

Chinese president is 'great person', says businessman who first met him in 1985

When asked what has helped sustain President Xi Jinping's friendship with him over the past 39 years, Luca Berrone, a board member of Iowa Sister States and a seasoned American businessman, responded with one word: "Respect".

In 1985, Xi, then secretary of the Communist Party of China Zhengding county committee in Hebei province, led a five-person delegation to Iowa for a two-week visit.

Berrone helped arrange the schedule for the delegation, and he said he was the first person that Xi met during the Iowa trip.

"In his life, I was a nobody in 1985. I just happened to be the person that organized a trip and took him around and took the time to explain things," Berrone told China Daily in Beijing.

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They accompanied each other for those two weeks visiting farms, feed suppliers and grain processing companies, which he said "was a great way to dialogue, exchanging information, and learn from each other".

"There are a lot of things about China that fascinated me and a lot of things that fascinated them about Iowa and the United States."

Xi and Berrone had their first reunion in 2012 in Beijing when Xi was vice-president.

"I did not see him for 27 years, but I believe that 27 years later, he respected me, still, to the point that he not only remembered my name, but he mentioned my name."

When it comes to respect, it takes two to tango. Berrone attributed his respect for Xi to "what he has done for China" in more than the past decade and honoring the commitments that he has made.

Their most recent reunion took place in San Francisco in November during Xi's visit to the US, when Xi met briefly with him and other representatives dedicated to bilateral friendship.

During the meeting, Xi brought up details of his trip in 1985, how much he enjoyed the visit and meeting with Berrone's 4-month-old son for the first time in 1985 in downtown Muscatine.

Xi is "a great person and a good friend that managed to remember my details", and that made the experiences so meaningful, Berrone added.

In San Francisco, Xi unveiled the plan to invite a total of 50,000 young people from the US for visits and exchanges in China over the following five years.

Berrone said one of Xi's contributions is "the spirit of cooperation, citizen diplomacy and learning and caring about other people's culture and habits".

As next year marks the 40th anniversary of the trip in 1985, Berrone said he hopes there is going to be a great celebration. "It's amazing to me that (nearly) 40 years have passed, have gone by in a hurry," he said with a laugh.

Berrone came to China last week along with the second delegation from Muscatine High School, which he said "is a great testament to the success" of the first one in January, given the very short amount of time since then and the relatively small population of Muscatine — a town of around 25,000 people.

"We need to be building bridges and not walls, first and foremost. We need to pay less attention to these inflammatory statements," he said.

As a word of advice to the visiting US students, Berrone said, "Don't look at your phone because what you see around you here today, whether it is a food stand, traffic lights, signs … everything is so different and so wonderful."

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As a keen observer of China and a corporate veteran, Berrone was quick to note China's GDP growth of 5.3 percent in the first quarter of this year.

"The fact that the economy in China is going to be stronger is going to be helpful in making the coming together of the two economies a better balance," he said.

He noted that the consumer market in the US "is still so large, so valuable that it cannot sustain itself, and it needs to be fed from other countries".

The two nations need to work on a better understanding of their trade relationship, he said.

"At some point, there has to be a good blend to make it a win-win situation for both countries. One winner is not a relationship," he said.