Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad speaks to members of the media in the lobby of Trump Tower in New York, Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2016. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad speaks to members of the media in the lobby of Trump Tower in New York, Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2016. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Senate committee approves Branstad for China ambassador

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By Molly Hunter | molly-hunter@uiowa.edu

The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing Tuesday on the nomination of Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad to the position of United States Ambassador to China.

President Donald Trump nominated Branstad for the Chinese ambassadorship last year. Iowa Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds is expected to take Branstad’s place as Iowa’s first female governor.

Sen. Joni Ernst, R-IA, and Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-IA, introduced Branstad to the committee at the start of Tuesday’s hearing. Both recommended Branstad highly.

Grassley said Branstad’s nomination came as no surprise, and that Branstad’s existing relationship with Chinese President Xi Jinping makes him a good candidate for the position.

“Perhaps most notably, Governor Branstad enjoys a 30-year friendship with President Xi,” Grassley said. “Their first meeting took place in 1985 when Xi was then a local provincial official who led an agriculture delegation to Iowa.”

Branstad said at the hearing that he and Xi have stayed close.

“If confirmed, I hope to use my unique position as an “old friend” of President Xi and a trusted confidant of President Trump to positively influence the U.S.-China relationship,” Branstad said.

Ernst said the experience Branstad has gained through Iowa’s trade relationship with China will also be a great advantage.

“Iowa’s extensive trade relationship with China has given Governor Branstad a front-seat view of the complexities of our country’s broader trade and economic relationship with China,” Ernst said.

According to Branstad, Iowa sends nearly half its soybeans and $33.5 million in pork to China annually.

“The importance of trade extends well beyond agriculture too,” Branstad said. “Aviation products, manufactured goods, chemicals, electronics, and many other products and services are exported to China daily and help support and sustain the American economy.”

At the hearing’s end, committee chairman Sen. Bob Corker, R-TN, also praised Branstad.

“I think your on-the-ground experiences with China will serve our nation well. I think your understandings of what drives the thinking within China will serve our national well,” Corker said.

According to Corker, Branstad’s most important responsibility will likely be how he influences Chinese relations with North Korea. Ernst said the U.S. to China ambassador position is one of the most importance ambassadorial positions in the world.

“I am well aware of the critical national security issues our two countries must work together on as well,” Branstad said. “China could play a critical role in convincing North Korea to dismantle its nuclear and missile programs.”

Branstad also acknowledged the importance of curtailing Chinese abuse of power in the region.

“On the South China Sea, China cannot be allowed to use its artificial islands to coerce its neighbors or limit freedom of navigation or overflight,” he said.

Branstad has served as Iowa’s governor since 2011. He also held the position between 1983 and 1999.

“I thank you for your willingness to give up a very comfortable place…to go to a post that’s much more temporary and yet, in many ways, far more meaningful from the standpoint of our security and the world’s security,” Corker said.