China Ambassador Nominee Could Be Good News For US-China Relations

Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping before a meeting at the Great Hall of the People on April 15, 2013 in Beijing, China. (Photo by Andy Wong – Pool/Getty Images)

One never knows whether President-elect Donald Trump means what he says or says what he means.

After his provocative phone call with Taiwan president Tsai Ing-wen and his tweet storms bashing China, many China watchers started to worry that a US-China trade war might be imminent.

But then, he nominated the Iowa governor Terry Branstad as his ambassador to China, a move immediately welcomed by Beijing. Mr. Branstad is considered “a longtime friend of the Chinese people,” and knows the Chinese President Xi Jinping personally.

If approved by the Senate, Mr. Branstad can play a positive role in US-China relations.

First, the Chinese value personal relationships more than anything else. Branstad’s connection to President Xi goes back to 1985 when he, as a first-term governor of Iowa, hosted a Chinese delegation that included a 31-year-old unknown official, who would become the President of China.

Twenty-seven years later in 2012, Xi Jinping returned to Iowa as the Vice President of the world’s second largest economy and presumed future Chinese President. Xi fondly recalled his first experience in America when he stayed in a spare bedroom of a Muscatine family.

Now Branstad refers to President Xi as “an old friend,” and vice versa. This kind of trust and personal relationship can help open doors for trade and other engagements between the two countries. For example, Iowa is now a preferred provider of corn and pork to China.

Personal relationships can also help to ease tensions when things get tough. Dr. Henry Kissinger has used his personal relationships with Chinese leaders to weather many storms during trying times. At least a trade war, which both sides stand to lose, now seems a lesser probability.

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