In 1985, Xi Jinping visited Iowa. Sarah Lande – who a few years later would become the first executive director for Iowa Sister States, a nonprofit that builds Iowa’s cultural, economic, and educational partnerships with the world – received Xi, then party secretary of Zhengding County in China’s Hebei Province. She did not even suspect that in 2013 Xi would become president of China.

“Iowa was a sister state with Hubei,” said Lande. “In 1985 the first delegations from China came to Iowa. For three days of their 10-day trip, they were in the Muscatine area. They came to learn how to feed their folks, and they went to dance.”

Politics is one of the most complicated dances. Especially when it comes to two superpowers – the United States and China. Most U.S. adults (89 percent) consider China a competitor or enemy, rather than a partner, according to a new Pew Research Center survey. Many also support taking a firmer approach to the bilateral relationship, whether by promoting human rights in China, getting tougher on China economically or limiting the number of Chinese students studying abroad in the United States. More broadly, 48 percent think limiting China’s power and influence should be a top foreign policy priority for the United States, up from 32 percent in 2018.

Nowadays, Sarah Lande defines the political relations between the United States and China “sad.”

“I would wish America could sort of compartmentalize – to cooperate in some area or at least keep talking for areas that could go in for nuclear weapons аnd things,” she said. “Аnd there are areas which we don’t believe China is doing the right thing, (such as) intellectual property. Тhere are a lot of Chinese who would buy our products. So why can’t we find out how we can work together and then keep working on those other issues? But at least keep talking.”

Back to that Pew Research Center study: Among the roughly one-fifth of Americans who mentioned the economy when thinking about China, many described the country as a manufacturing powerhouse, highlighted the quality of products made there or discussed other facets of its economy, including trade policies, working conditions, intellectual property and the ways in which China is a global economic leader. Lande said she sees the future like this:

”I think it’s going to maybe be tough in the short term. Do you know what I read about ‘China has gotten stronger’ and ‘Xi Jinping has turned to more focus on his goals – from Taiwan to stronger armaments and really controlling in the South China Sea.’ We think that is bad. If we can find a way to cooperate, it will be better for us too. And to me, it’s such a missed opportunity among our people.

“You know,” she added, “I love the Chinese people. We still have some young people going to the embassy this year and going on exchange next year. So maybe they can keep good relations. We are two of the largest countries in the world, and we need to figure out how not to destroy each other and how to, you know, let each go their own way.”