March, 2012; Source: Think (Stanley Foundation)

The current vice president and likely future president of China, Xi Jinping, recently visited Muscatine, Iowa (population 22,886) during a recent visit to the U.S. Muscatine is the home of the Stanley Foundation, an operating foundation dedicated to world peace and world citizenship. Oddly enough, this wasn’t Xi’s first visit to Muscatine. As part of a delegation touring Iowa in 1985, he toured farms and factories in the area and stayed in the spare bedroom of Tom and Eleanor Dvorchak. For this trip, a prelude to his taking the top spot in the Chinese government, Xi asked for a visit to Muscatine to meet up with “old friends” Dick Stanley, the foundation’s board chair, and his wife, Mary Jo, a director emeritus. According to the Stanley Foundation’s newsletter, Think, the foundation helped with the visit by working to manage the media onslaught that accompanied the man who might become ruler of the country with the second largest economy in the world. The newsletter captured the tenor of his visit, lots of good vibes and reminiscences of old times.

But the democratic vibe surrounding Xi’s visit to Muscatine doesn’t undo other issues regarding China’s posture in the world. This month’s edition of the Stanley Foundation’s magazine, Courier, is devoted to the theme of “Responsibility to Protect” (R2P), the idea that “redefines sovereignty as something that comes with a responsibility to protect civilian populations. And if a nation can’t protect its citizens, it calls on the international community to assist or, in extreme cases like Libya, intervene to stop bloodshed.” You’ll recall that China was a critic of efforts to intervene in Libya, saying (along with Russia) that NATO had overstepped its U.N. mandate. China has similarly not been particularly keen on stopping Assad’s massacres of civilians in Syria and has also been resistant to international inquiries about its own treatment of Tibetans and Uighurs.

As Xi visited the U.S., Tibetan nuns and monks were setting themselves on fire to protest China’s rule in what China calls the Tibetan Autonomous Region (30 have self-immolated so far since 2009, most of them this year). Almost exactly when Xi hobnobbed with his old friends in Iowa, Reporters Without Borders issued a “crisis report” decrying China’s clampdown on news and access to Tibet titled “Tibet Cut Off From Rest of the World.” As Xi recalled the good feelings from his trip a quarter century ago, three Tibetans began a hunger strike outside the United Nations building urging the U.N. to send a fact-finding delegation to Tibet, to ask China to end the “undeclared martial law” in Tibet, and to “allow international media to investigate and report on the ongoing atrocities in Tibet.”

Given the timing of Xi’s visit smack in the middle of China’s less than open approach to protecting civilians around the world and in its own homeland, Xi merited some tough questions from Iowans who, as much as any Americans, understand the notion of “responsibility to protect.” – Rick Cohen

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article stated that Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping visited the Stanley Foundation and that the Stanley Foundation “hosted” his visit. While Xi did visit with Stanley Foundation board chair Dick Stanley, he did not visit the foundation premises and the foundation was not an official host of Xi’s visit. NPQ regrets the error.