US Senate confirms ‘old friend of Xi Jinping’ Terry Branstad as ambassador to China

As governor of farming state Iowa, Branstad has had decades of dealings with Xi, but pledges to be firm with Beijing over North Korea, trade and human rights

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 23 May, 2017, 11:06am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 24 May, 2017, 12:02am

The US Senate voted overwhelmingly on Monday to confirm Iowa Governor Terry Branstad, one of the US politicians most closely acquainted with China, as President Donald Trump’s ambassador to Beijing.

One of Branstad’s first challenges will be pushing China to take a harder line against North Korea, which said on Monday that it successfully tested what it called an intermediate-range ballistic missile, although US officials and experts questioned the extent of the country’s progress.

Branstad assured lawmakers during his confirmation hearing he would take a firm line with the Chinese government on issues from North Korea to trade disputes and human rights, despite years working closely with Chinese officials.

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Branstad said his long ties would help him push Beijing on difficult topics, including North Korea and thorny trade issues.

President Xi Jinping has called Branstad, 70, an “old friend” after decades of dealings on agricultural trade during his long career in politics in Iowa, an important farming state.

The vote was 82-13, with all 13 of the votes against the Republican president’s nominee coming from Democrats.

Washington has been trying to persuade China to agree to new sanctions on Pyongyang, which has conducted dozens of missile firings and tested two nuclear bombs since the start of 2016.

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Trump has warned that a “major, major conflict” with North Korea was possible over its weapons programmes, although US officials say tougher sanctions, not military force, are the preferred option.

Branstad’s move to Beijing will end his 22-year tenure as Iowa’s governor. The longest serving state governor in US history, Branstad is serving his sixth nonconsecutive four-year term.

He is due to be replaced in Des Moines by Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds, who would be the state’s first woman governor.