Muscatine-China connection rewards local students

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A China-based company is donating $100,000 to allow Muscatine students to participate in a cultural and educational program in China.

Wanxiang America Corporation's donation will allow some 16 students and three adults to study in China for a month this summer.

Among other things, Wanxiang America makes auto parts at a plant in Elgin, Illinois.

The program is part of the 100,000 Strong Initiative introduced by the Obama administration.

As Chinese government and business leaders announced the partnership on Wednesday, Jenny Juehring and Michael Cox weren't just faces in the crowd. The Muscatine High seniors will spend their spring break in China.

"We're both international powers," Juehring said. "It's better to work together than be adversaries."

Muscatine High is a leader in science, technology, engineering and math education. It's also one of the few Iowa schools to offer four levels of Chinese language classes.

The high school will team up with Muscatine Community College for the trips over the next two years.

"We're not going to solve all the problems between the U.S. and China by the program," said Pin Ni, president of Wanxiang America Corportation. "However, definitely, I think it will have an impact."

The impact is growing from a unique bond with Xi Jinping, who now leads the Communist Party in China. Mr. Xi first visited Muscatine in 1985, then returned last year to catch up with his "old friends."

"It shows that if you build up a strong relationship and friendship, from that can come trust," said Sarah Lande, Muscatine, who is one of the "old friends."

After forging that bond nearly 30 years ago, the connection is becoming even closer. These are old friends who are ready for a new beginning.

At Wednesday's signing ceremony, hope that students will become cultural ambassadors. They'll also get a great look at life in the global economy.

"They're very friendly people," Cox concluded. "It will help us be a little more open to them. Hopefully, it will strengthen our ties."

Ties between Muscatine and China that continue to tighten.