North Korea a top priority, says new US ambassador to China

The new US ambassador to China Terry Branstad giving a speech in Iowa this month as President Donald Trump looks on. Mr Branstad, a former Iowa governor, has been described by Beijing as an "old friend" of China.
The new US ambassador to China Terry Branstad giving a speech in Iowa this month as President Donald Trump looks on. Mr Branstad, a former Iowa governor, has been described by Beijing as an "old friend" of China.PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING • The new US ambassador to China has said that stopping the threat posed by North Korea will be a top priority, along with resolving the US-China trade imbalance, according to a video message to the Chinese people released yesterday.

Mr Terry Branstad, a former Iowa governor, has been described by Beijing as an "old friend" of China.

He was confirmed on May 24 as President Donald Trump's new ambassador to China but his arrival date has yet to be announced.

"Resolving the bilateral trade imbalance, stopping the North Korea threat, and expanding people-to- people ties will be my top priorities," Mr Branstad said in the video message, which was released on a Chinese video-streaming platform.

Mr Trump has placed high hopes on China and President Mr Xi Jinping exerting greater influence on North Korea, although he said last week that Chinese efforts to rein in the reclusive North's nuclear and missile programmes had failed.

China's Foreign Ministry has said that Beijing is doing all that it can with regard to North Korea by implementing United Nations Security Council sanctions, while also pushing for greater dialogue to reduce tensions.

Last week, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said he had pressed China to ramp up economic and political pressure on North Korea during his meeting with top diplomat Yang Jiechi in Washington.

In the video, Mr Branstad said: "We face many of the same challenges. A strong US-China relationship can contribute to solutions."

But he did not give details about how he hoped to work with China.

Mr Branstad also recounted his three decades of engagement with China - from his first visit in 1984 to hosting Mr Xi, then a county-level Communist Party leader, in Iowa in 1985, and again in 2012, when Mr Xi was vice-president.

Mr Trump had pledged during his election campaign to take a tough stance on Chinese trade practices deemed unfair to the US, but his rhetoric softened after a friendlier- than-expected meeting with Mr Xi in Florida in April.

Shortly after their meeting, Mr Trump said he had told Mr Xi that China would get a better trade deal if it worked to rein in the North. China is neighbouring North Korea's lone major ally.

The United States ran a trade deficit of US$347 billion (S$481 billion) with China last year, US Treasury figures show.

REUTERS

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 27, 2017, with the headline 'North Korea a top priority, says new US ambassador to China'. Print Edition | Subscribe