China-US relations

Trump pick for China ambassador promises ‘win-win’ boost to trade ties

Terry Branstad says he will work out differences with major trade partner

PUBLISHED : Friday, 03 February, 2017, 4:07pm
UPDATED : Friday, 03 February, 2017, 4:07pm

US President Donald Trump’s pick for ambassador to China, Terry Branstad, said he would help increase trade in a “win-win” for both countries, Chinese state media reported, amid concerns over protectionist talk from the new US administration.

Trump has railed against China’s trade practices, blaming them for US job losses, and has threatened to impose punitive tariffs on Chinese imports.

Beijing said it would work with Washington to resolve any trade disputes, but state media warned of retaliation if Trump takes the first steps towards a trade war.

Branstad, currently the governor of Iowa, said he would help to work out differences and that there was immense potential for more Chinese investment in the United States.

“We want to continue to enhance the relationship and to increase trade between our two countries,” Branstad told China’s official Xinhua news agency in an interview in the United States published late on Thursday.

“I hope ... that I can play a constructive role trying to work out many of these differences in a way that makes it a win-win. It is beneficial to both of our countries, and also benefits the rest of the world,” Xinhua quoted Branstad as saying.

“I think we have seen just the tip of the iceberg of the potential (Chinese) investments here,” he said.

Trump’s nomination of Branstad, a long-time Republican governor who has developed relationships with Chinese President Xi Jinping and other Chinese leaders, was well-received, even among some Democrats.

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The nominee still faces a confirmation hearing.

Trump has moved to fill his administration with critics of China’s trade policies, including Wilbur Ross for commerce secretary, Robert Lighthizer for US trade representative, and Peter Navarro, an economist and China hawk who will serve as a White House adviser.

Free trade advocates worry that Trump’s trade team will be too quick to use tariffs to keep imports out, raising costs for manufacturers that rely on imported parts – or sparking retaliatory trade wars.

Xi made a vigorous defence of globalisation at the World Economic Forum in Davos last month, and presented China’s economy as “wide open”, despite complaints from the foreign business community that Beijing has not made good on pledges of economic liberalisation.

The official China Daily newspaper said on Friday that China could weather trade friction better than the United States, as its exports accounted for a larger proportion of global trade, but that Trump’s words and actions “bode ill” for relations.

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“China needs to cast aside any illusions it may have had that Trump was just mouthing off to attract votes and instead be prepared for the worst,” the newspaper said in an editorial.

Commentary from influential Chinese state-run media does not equate with policy, but can be reflective of official thinking.

Trump’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, was greeted by China’s ambassador to the United States, Cui Tiankai, at a Lunar New Year reception at the embassy in Washington on Thursday.

The China Daily said her father had “broken a tradition” of US presidents “sending New Year’s greetings to people of Chinese origin in the United States for their most important festival”.