Pick of Branstad for US en­voy to China praised

China Daily (Canada) - - FRONT PAGE - By CHEN WEIHUA in Wash­ing­ton chen­wei­hua@chi­nadai­lyusa. com

US Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump’s pick of Iowa Gover­nor Terry Branstad to be the next US am­bas­sador to China has been well re­ceived in both coun­tries.

Trump an­nounced his in­tent to nom­i­nate Branstad for the job, ac­cord­ing to a state­ment on Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon from Trump’s tran­si­tion team.

“Gover­nor Branstad’s decades of ex­pe­ri­ence in pub­lic ser­vice and long-time re­la­tion­ship with Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping and other Chi­nese lead­ers make him the ideal choice to serve as Amer­ica’s Am­bas­sador to China,” Trump said in the press re­lease.

“He suc­cess­fully de­vel­oped close trade ties with China while serv­ing as chief ex­ec­u­tive of the Hawk­eye State. That ex­pe­ri­ence will serve him well as he rep­re­sents Amer­ica’s in­ter­ests and fur­ther de­vel­ops a mu­tu­ally ben­e­fi­cial re­la­tion­ship with Chi­nese lead­er­ship.”

The pos­si­ble pick had been cir­cu­lat­ing for weeks, but Ja­son Miller, spokesman for Trump’s tran­si­tion team, con­firmed it on Wed­nes­day morn­ing. He de­scribed Branstad as “some­one who has a lot of ex­pe­ri­ence and a great grasp of trade is­sues, agri­cul­ture is­sues, a tremen­dous un­der­stand­ing of China and Chi­nese peo­ple, and is some­one who very much im­pressed the pres­i­dent-elect not just in their meet­ings on the cam­paign trail but also in meet­ings af­ter the elec­tion”.

“Af­ter long dis­cus­sions with my fam­ily, I am hon­ored and hum­bled to ac­cept Pres­i­den­t­elect Trump’s nom­i­na­tion to rep­re­sent our great coun­try as Am­bas­sador to China,” Branstad was quoted in the press re­lease.

“I have known Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping for many years and con­sider him an old friend. I look for­ward to build­ing on our long friend­ship to cul­ti­vate and strengthen the re­la­tion­ship be­tween our two coun­tries and to ben­e­fit our econ­omy.”

The an­nounce­ment was made just days af­ter Trump’s con­tro­ver­sial phone call with Tai­wan leader Tsai Ing-wen on Dec 2, draw­ing much crit­i­cism both in China and the US for its break with decades of bi­lat­eral diplo­matic pro­to­col be­tween China and the US since they es­tab­lished diplo­matic ties in 1979.

The Chi­nese govern­ment re­acted fa­vor­ably to the choice. For­eign Min­istry spokesman Lu Kang, when asked about news re­ports about the pos­si­ble nom­i­na­tion, said on Wed­nes­day that “Mr Branstad is an old friend of the Chi­nese peo­ple, and we wel­come his greater con­tri­bu­tion to the de­vel­op­ment of China-US re­la­tions.”

Cheng Li, di­rec­tor of the John L. Thorn­ton China Cen­ter of the Brook­ings In­sti­tu­tion, said such a soon pick of US am­bas­sador to China re­flects the high at­ten­tion Trump pays to China.

“By pick­ing his own peo­ple to the po­si­tion, Trump wants to lead the China-US re­la­tions ac­cord­ing to his own think­ing,” Li said.

I have known Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping for many years and con­sider him an old friend.”

Pres­i­dent Barack Obama nom­i­nated Jon Hunts­man to be the am­bas­sador to China on May 16, 2009, nearly five months af­ter his in­au­gu­ra­tion, while Clark Randt was nom­i­nated by Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush on April 30, 2001, three months af­ter Bush took of­fice.

Li also pointed to Branstad’s close re­la­tion­ship with Xi, es­tab­lished in 1985 when Xi vis­ited Iowa as a county leader in China’s He­bei prov­ince dur­ing his first trip to the US.

“It’s a clear sign for Trump to es­tab­lish good in­ter­ac­tion with Xi, so it’s very pos­i­tive in this re­gard. He not only pays at­ten­tion to China, but also Xi him­self,” Li said.

Dou­glas Paal, vice pres­i­dent for stud­ies and di­rec­tor of the Asia pro­gram at the Carnegie En­dow­ment for In­ter­na­tional Peace, said most peo­ple did not no­tice that at the last cam­paign rally in Iowa with Branstad as host on the eve of the elec­tion, Trump pub­licly com­mented that Branstad would make a great am­bas­sador to China.

“So this is a po­lit­i­cal pay­off for de­liv­er­ing Iowa big time. But it is also a recog­ni­tion of Branstad’s con­sid­er­able in­vest­ment of time and in­ter­est in China, in­clud­ing with a ju­nior of­fi­cial named Xi Jin­ping,” Paal said.

“While this is not re­lated to the Tsai phone call, it ought to help bal­ance it out. Trump gets a loyal friend in Bei­jing. Bei­jing gets an am­bas­sador with clout in the White House,” Paal said.

Branstad, who is in his sixth term as Iowa gover­nor and the long­est-serv­ing gover­nor in US his­tory, sup­ported Trump dur­ing the pres­i­den­tial race. His son, Eric, ran Trump’s gen­eral elec­tion cam­paign in Iowa.

In an in­ter­view with China Daily in Septem­ber 2015 be­fore Xi’s state visit to the US, Branstad fondly re­called his time with Xi. When Branstad re­ceived Xi’s five-per­son group in 1985 in the Iowa State Capi­tol, he was serv­ing his first term as gover­nor.

It was at Branstad’s in­vi­ta­tion that Xi made a re­turn trip to Iowa in 2012 as China’s vi­cepres­i­dent. “We’re very hon­ored and very proud to have the pres­i­dent of China call us old friends,” Branstad told China Daily.

Branstad has led sev­eral trade mis­sions to China over the years. China is a key trade part­ner for Iowa, a ma­jor agri­cul­tural state and pro­ducer of soy­beans, corn and pork.

Branstad, who turned 70 on Nov 17, said in the in­ter­view that he un­der­stands there are dif­fer­ences that need to be worked out by the two coun­tries.

“But nev­er­the­less, I have an old friend whom I trust and re­spect, and I want to build on that long-stand­ing re­la­tion­ship of friend­ship and trust.”

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