Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping won the hearts of ordinary Americans during a visit to a farming community in the Midwestern state of Iowa Wednesday, 27 years after he first visited the area as a mid-level official.
The man presumed to be China's next president spent an hour sipping tea with residents in the town of Muscatine, and many said he remembered faces and recited events from his previous visit in 1985.
Among those who met with Xi was local resident Tom Hoopes, whose farm Xi visited during that earlier trip to study U.S. agricultural practices.
"I've never been around anyone who worked an audience like he did, and in view of the fact that it was a two-language situation, he worked it as sincere as my first impression of ever having heard him talk," he said.
Xi, who concludes his U.S. tour with a visit to Los Angeles Thursday, stressed his interest in person-to-person contacts during a formal dinner later Wednesday in the Iowa state capital, Des Moines.
At the dinner, hosted by state Governor Terry Branstad, Xi said he is in the United States to advance cooperative relations.
"I'm visiting the United States to help implement the important consensus that has been reached between President Hu Jintao and President Obama, and I'm here to build the China-US cooperative partnership based on mutual respect and mutual benefit. And I want to engage with a broad cross-section of American society to help deepen the friendship between Chinese and American people," he said.
In another move likely to be popular among American farmers, officials traveling with Xi announced plans to purchase $4.3 billion worth of U.S. soybeans. The 12-metric-ton purchase will be China's largest such deal to date.
Xi received a cooler welcome during a visit Wednesday to the U.S. Congress in Washington, where senators and representatives pressed him on China's human rights record.
Senator John McCain, a Republican from Arizona, told VOA he had brought up a wave of self-immolations by Tibetan monks protesting Chinese rule, as well as China's veto of a United Nations resolution on Syria.
"As I just mentioned to the vice president, there has been enormous and dynamic economic progress, but we still have Tibetan monks burning themselves to death, we have Nobel Prize winners in house arrest and the continued propping up of North Korea, a brutal regime," he said.
House Speaker John Boehner presented Xi with a letter concerning Gao Zhisheng, a human rights lawyer jailed in China.
Tibetan protesters have turned out at several events during Xi's four-day tour, including his visit to Iowa.
During a major policy speech in Washington Wednesday, Xi called for more balanced economic ties between the two countries and closer cooperation on international problems, including tensions over North Korea and Iran.
He also demanded that the United States respect Chinese claims to sovereignty over Tibet and Taiwan.