- By Isaac Stone FishIsaac Stone Fish is FP's Asia editor. A Mandarin speaker, he lived in China for seven years before moving to Washington, D.C. His articles have also appeared in the New York Times, the Economist, the Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times, and he has appeared as a commentator on MSNBC, the BBC, NPR, Al Jazeera, and PRI, among others.
Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad hosted Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping this week; on Wednesday, a delegation of Chinese officials agreed to buy more than $4 billion dollars of soybeans. Xi, who many expect to be the next president of China, visited Iowa as part of a four-day trip to the United States. What follows is a phone interview with Governor Branstad after Xi’s visit, edited and condensed for clarity.
Foreign Policy: You had said that you would let President Barack Obama’s administration handle political and human rights questions regarding Xi and China. Any regrets that you didn’t use this chance to raise human rights questions with Vice President Xi?
Governor Terry Branstad: I think my role as governor is really to build long-term friendships and relationships. The difference in those things needs to be worked out on the national level between those two countries.
FP: There’s been a lot of talk about a potential slowdown of the Chinese economy. How is Iowa preparing for this?
TB: Of course you’re going to see some slowdown. China has had a phenomenal growth rate, but it’s very unlikely that it’s going to continue at that speed. Still, even if their growth rate is only 5-6 percent, compared with us, who have a minuscule growth rate, or Europe, which is on the brink of financial collapse, they’re still in strong condition. Economically they don’t have the debt problem that the U.S. and Europe have. There are a lot of things that China really has going for it.
FP: When’s the next time you’ll see Xi?
TB: I talked to him about this at dinner. He had his first trip to the United States here when I was governor, April 26, 1985, and I would love to be the first governor to meet with him in Beijing when he becomes president.
FP: Isn’t it not yet certain whether or not Xi will become president of China? Did he indicate anything?
TB: He’s very careful, and he’s not presumptive. He’s the vice president at this time, and is very cognizant of his role there. I think the general [thought] is that he is very likely to be the next president of China, and so we’re obviously hoping that will be the case, and expecting that to be the case.
We think that Iowa has a little bit of an in, and we’d love to build on that, and we know that personal relations are important.
FP: What did he say when you asked him about visiting him as president?
TB: He didn’t directly answer that, but said that when I come to Beijing, he would love to have my wife come as well, so I took that as a positive sign.