The nondescript suburban house, once a symbol of warming US-China ties, sits untended and empty in Muscatine, Iowa. Its deck is in need of paint, its foundation mildewing, shutters fading, and decorative flags torn and discoloured.
The modest community of 24,000 people has enjoyed an unlikely role in trans-Pacific diplomacy since the locals realised that a junior Chinese party official who homestayed there in 1985 had gone on to become China’s president.
“This house is emblematic of the US-China relationship. It went from pristine, a showcase, to where it is now, just sitting there. It has the feel of a house slipping,” said Gary Dvorchak, in whose Star Trek-themed bedroom Xi Jinping slept during a two-week visit as part of an agricultural delegation from northern China’s Hebei province.
Bilateral prospects looked far brighter in 2012 when Xi – then Chinese vice-president and heir apparent to the leadership – returned and made a detour to Iowa on his first US state visit, voicing optimism that cooperation between the two countries was on a “course that cannot be stopped or reversed”.