NEW YORK: US President-elect Donald Trump’s pick of Iowa Governor Terry Branstad as ambassador to China sends a positive sign for ties, Chinese state media said, but the envoy will have to live up to earlier statements rejecting confrontation with Beijing.
The appointment of Branstad, seen in China as a longstanding friend who first forged ties with President Xi Jinping 30 years ago during an agricultural research trip to Iowa, may help ease trade tension between the world’s two largest economies, diplomats and trade experts have said.
But the move comes even as Trump has directed fiery rhetoric at China, and surrounded himself with advisers and cabinet members who advocate a tough line on Beijing.
Branstad had rejected China-bashing campaign rhetoric in an interview during Xi’s 2015 state visit to the United States, China’s official Xinhua news agency said.
Xinhua cited the governor as saying he was “hopeful” the next president would “lead to additional cooperation, additional trade and not confrontation” with China.
“Now it is his turn to walk his talk together with Trump,” the news agency said in a commentary on Thursday.
“His expertise on China and friendship with Chinese and U.S. leaders are expected to facilitate him in lubricating the development of the most important bilateral relationship in the world,” Xinhua said.
Branstad’s nomination, if confirmed, “will be a positive move made by Trump toward a healthy and stable relationship between Beijing and Washington,” it added.
China’s Foreign Ministry has called Branstad an “old friend of the Chinese people”, and welcomed his selection.
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 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 this month provoked a diplomatic protest from Beijing, which sees Taiwan as 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 nomination, which will be formally made once Trump is sworn in on Jan. 20, was well received in the United States, even among some Democrats.