US Ambassador to China Terry Branstad is to step down early next month, ending a three-year tenure marked by a trade war and increasingly bitter relations between the world’s two largest economies.
Branstad, appointed by US President Donald Trump in 2017, confirmed his decision in a phone call with Trump last week, the US embassy said in a statement yesterday. It did not give a reason for his departure.
“I am proudest of our work in getting the phase one trade deal and delivering tangible results for our communities back home,” he was quoted as saying at an embassy staff meeting yesterday.
Word of his departure leaked out earlier in the day when US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo thanked Branstad on Twitter for his service.
“Ambassador Branstad has contributed to rebalancing US-China relations so that it is results-oriented, reciprocal, and fair,” Pompeo wrote in a follow-up tweet.
The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said before the embassy announcement that it was aware of Pompeo’s tweet, but had not received any notification that Branstad was leaving.
Branstad became embroiled in a recent controversy when China’s official People’s Daily newspaper rejected an opinion column that he had written.
Pompeo last week tweeted that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) refused to run Branstad’s op-ed while the Chinese ambassador to the US “is free to publish in any US media outlet.”
Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Zhao Lijian (趙立堅) responded that Branstad’s article was “full of loopholes, seriously inconsistent with facts and wantonly attacks and smears China.”
The US embassy on Aug. 26 contacted the People’s Daily about the piece, asking that it be printed in full without any edits before Sept. 4, the People’s Daily said in a statement posted online.
Branstad, 73, is a native of Iowa and was governor of the major farming state for 22 years over two spans, from 1983 to 1999 and 2011 to 2017.
In 1985, he met Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平), then a county-level CCP official visiting Iowa on a trade trip.
Soon after arriving in Beijing in June 2017, Branstad welcomed US beef back to the Chinese market after a 14-year ban, saying: “I know it is a key priority of the president to reduce the trade deficit, and this is one of the ways we can do it.”
However, trade relations quickly soured, as the US imposed tariffs on Chinese products and China retaliated in kind. Other disputes followed over technology, human rights and the response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Branstad joined US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin at trade talks with Chinese counterparts in Beijing in May last year.
The “phase one” deal reached the following January represented a truce, but did not address the more fundamental complaints of the US side.
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