Trump picks longtime friend of Beijing as U.S. ambassador to China

Governor of Iowa Terry Branstad exits after meeting with U.S. President-elect Donald Trump at Trump Tower in Manhattan, New York City, U.S., December 6, 2016. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Governor of Iowa Terry Branstad exits after meeting with U.S. President-elect Donald Trump at Trump Tower in Manhattan, New York City, U.S., December 6, 2016. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

By Dominique Patton and Steve Holland | BEIJING/NEW YORK

President-elect Donald Trump will nominate Iowa Governor Terry Branstad as the next U.S. ambassador to China, choosing a longstanding friend of Beijing after rattling the world’s second largest economy with tough talk on trade and a telephone call with the leader of Taiwan.

The appointment may help to ease trade tensions between the two countries, the world’s two biggest agricultural producers, diplomats and trade experts said. Branstad has visited China at least six times, and Chinese President Xi Jinping has traveled to Iowa twice, including once while Branstad was governor.

Branstad’s appointment also suggests that Trump may be ready to take a less combative stance toward China than many expected, the experts said.

Trump in a statement cited Branstad’s qualifications including experience in government and longtime relationships with Xi and other Chinese leaders. The nomination, which will be formally made once the Republican president-elect is sworn in on Jan. 20, was well received, even among some Democrats.

“He’s tenacious, and trust me, with the Chinese, you need to be tenacious,” U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, a former Iowa governor, said of Branstad.

Trump, who defeated Hillary Clinton in last month’s election, has said that when he takes office he intends to declare China a currency manipulator, meaning it keeps the yuan artificially low to make its exports cheap, and has threatened to impose punitive tariffs on Chinese goods coming into the United States.

Added to that, his unusual decision to accept a call from Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen last week prompted a diplomatic protest on Saturday from Beijing, which considers Taiwan a renegade province. Trump’s transition team played down the exchange as a courtesy call, but the White House had to reassure China that its decades-old “one-China” policy was intact.

Branstad’s established personal connection with China could help smooth a relationship defined largely by international security matters and by bilateral trade, where the massive U.S. trade deficit with the country is a source of friction.

“It means that the Trump team understands that it is important to have an ambassador who has access to Xi Jinping,” Bonnie Glaser, a China expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank in Washington, said of the pick.

Branstad called Xi a “longtime friend” when Xi visited Iowa in February 2012, only nine months before he became China’s leader.

On Wednesday, Branstad said he and Xi have had a “30-year friendship” and added: “The president-elect understands my unique relationship to China and has asked me to serve in a way I had not previously considered.”

Before his nomination was announced, Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang called Branstad an “old friend” of China when asked in Beijing about a Bloomberg report on the appointment, although he said China would work with any U.S. ambassador.

“We welcome him to play a greater role in advancing the development of China-U.S. relations,” he told a daily news briefing.

Xi’s ties to Iowa go back more than 30 years: He visited Iowa in 1985 on an agricultural research trip when he led a delegation from Hebei Province, returning 27 years later and reuniting with some of the people he had met.

Trump’s stance on China has been in particular focus since Friday’s call with Tsai, the first such top-level contact with Taiwan by a U.S. president-elect or president since President Jimmy Carter adopted a “one-China” policy in 1979, recognizing only the Beijing government.


China is the United States’ largest trading partner in goods. But imports from China far outstripped U.S. exports, making for a trade deficit with China of $336.2 billion in 2015, according to the U.S. Trade Representative.

Specific U.S. trade concerns include allegations that China is dumping steel and aluminum in global markets below the cost of production, hurting American producers. In the agricultural sector, the United States has been unable to get Beijing to lift anti-dumping measures on U.S. broiler chicken products and an animal feed ingredient known as distillers’ dried grains (DDGS).

China is one of Iowa’s biggest export markets, so Branstad is well placed to deal with China-U.S. trade issues, said Professor Huang Jing, an expert on Chinese politics at the National University of Singapore.

“This really sends a message that Donald Trump wants to handle China at the bilateral relationship level,” he said.

Branstad, 70, visited China most recently as the leader of a trade mission that made stops in Beijing and Hebei in November. He will be “somebody who clearly understands agriculture representing U.S. interests” in China, said Dale Moore, executive director for public policy at the American Farm Bureau Federation.

(Reporting by Sangameswaran S in Bengalaru, Christian Shepherd in Beijing, John Ruwitch in Shanghai; Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu and Matt Spetalnick in Washington, Tom Polansek and Mark Weinraub in Chicago and Kay Henderson in Des Moines; Writing by Richard Cowan and David Ingram; Editing by Robert Birsel, Martin Howell, Frances Kerry and Jonathan Oatis)

Source: Reuters “Trump picks longtime friend of Beijing as U.S. ambassador to China”

Note: This is Reuters report I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the report’ views.


3 Comments on “Trump picks longtime friend of Beijing as U.S. ambassador to China”

  1. Simon says:

    I bet Trump wanted his grand daughter as China ambassador but ast 5yrs old someone in his team reminded him she is too young to serve and also too young to get married:)


  2. Simon says:

    Accusing China as a currency manipulator might have some weight a few years ago but not anymore. China’s RMB has risen against the dollar partly assisted by China to boost spending at home in the face of falling export. If you ask someone clued up about current events the mention of China as a “currency manipulator” is so yesterday and dismissed but if you pose the same question to a redneck who is unable to extradite himself from negative views he will still use that as sound bites even if it is no longer relevent. This shows how far Trump has fallen behind in understanding foreign affairs clinging on to old news and cliche about China.


  3. Joseph says:

    I heard Iowa’s special connection to China and Xi Jinping before. But it all depended to the attitude of the Iowa people. I am not sure it will be compatible as a whole. The Iowan treated their China’s with respect and understanding. That made Iowa to be a major porks exporter to China. However it also made Iowa to be the black sheep of USA, with many Iowan living in other states such as California and Florida expressed ‘shame’ of what their state had done in ‘boot-licking’ China. It would be interesting to see what Branstad can do. He would after all be a mere ambassador, no more than Gary Locke, the disappointment. In the end he may just be another American tool to put pressure to China, soft or hard. Last time, Obama plucked a former grocery store boy to deal with Chinese dignitaries only because he was a Chinese ‘American’. And this Chinese American boy did not even know how to behave like a Chinese. This time Donald Trump may choose a friend of China in the hope that China will feel uneasy to offend long time friend, another misguided assumption about China that the Westerners often made. But at least he knows a thing or two about the Chinese. Far better than a Chinese boy in America who had forgotten his root. If Donald Trump wants to engage China positively, he has to be respectful. He should learn about China more genuinely, rather than making assumption based the attitude of ordinary Chinese American. If the American would assume that the Chinese is nothing more than American Chinese take away vendor, it is fair for China to assume that American is nothing than McDonald vendors. In the end, Branstad knows how to deal with the Chinese in the past. He should now what his erstwhile would-be boss would expect from him. He should thread carefully, otherwise it would be the end of his 30 years long special friendship with China and Xi Jinping, and his Iowa long term term pork export to China.