For those who find meaning in the confluence of dates and events, may, like me, have found it propitious that October 16, the day that marked the beginning of the 20th Chinese Communist Party Congress in Beijing, is also the date that is commemorated around the globe as United Nations World Food Day, and as Dr. Norman E. Borlaug / World Food Prize Day across America and most especially in Borlaug’s home state of Iowa, where the annual World Food Prize award presentation is taking place this week.
Given the news reports indicating that President Xi Jinping is expected to be confirmed for a third five year term as President of the People’s Republic of China during this Party Congress, observers of this alignment of events around October 16 will
recall that one of the very first trips that President Xi undertook in 1985 as a 31 year old young party leader in Hebei Province was to the state of Iowa where he had an exceptional introduction to modern American agriculture.
In 2012, then Vice President Xi made a sentimental return visit to Iowa where he drove a tractor on an American farm and delivered the keynote address at the U.S. – China High Level Agricultural Symposium at the magnificently restored Dr. Norman E. Borlaug Hall of Laureates, the home of the World Food Prize Foundation that Borlaug founded to become the “Nobel Prize for Food and Agriculture.”
While taking part in that event, President Xi heard accounts of how his father had also visited Iowa in 1980, immediately after the establishment of diplomatic relations between Beijing and Washington. He heard accounts of how Professor Yuan Longping, China’s greatest agricultural scientist was presented the World Food Prize in Des Moines. In addition, contracts were signed for $3.5 billion in soybean exports from the American midwest – – the Heartland – – to China.
As the bilateral government-to-government relationship has become more fraught with increasingly intractable problems over the recent past, the U.S. Heartland China Association (USHCA) led by former Governor Bob Holden, has endeavored to promote positive relations between our two peoples through enhanced two-way trade in agricultural products and increased exchanges among private business entities and non-governmental and educational organizations. These sub-national, virtual gatherings helped keep a vibrant spirit among sub-national government representatives and educational and research leaders, and attracting participation by local and state / province level political leaders and senior business executives and CEOs to take part. These culminated on the April 21st U.S. – China Agricultural Dialogue in that very same building where President Xi spoke in 2012, with Ambassadors Qin Gang, Nicholas Burns and Terry Branstad all participating. It was perhaps the most positive bilateral event in several years.
The great lesson of the agricultural heartlands of both America and China is that “peace through agriculture” may be the best hope for a stable and productive Sino – American relationship over the coming decades. Peace can be promoted not only by increased trade in agricultural products and commodities among our two countries, but also by the U.S. and China coming together to lead a global collaboration to uplift the poorest countries around the globe as our planet and humankind face our greatest ever challenge – – whether we can sustainably produce and distribute sufficient nutritious food for all of the 9 to 10 billion people who will be present by the year 2049, and can we do so while dealing with the challenges of climate volatility and preventing pandemic plant and animal diseases.
That the observance of UN World Food Day was started by the U.N. Food & Agriculture Organization on October 16, combined with October 16 being the week during which president Xi Jinping is expected to receive another term president of China, and it is the week when the World Food Prize is presented in Des Moines, should inspire us to even greater strides in cooperation. It seems to be written in the stars.