Iowa governor tipped as US ambassador to China

Mr Xi and Mr Branstad at a state dinner held for the Chinese leader when he visited Iowa in 2012. The two men met back in 1985, during Mr Xi's first trip to the Midwestern state, and have maintained strong bonds, thanks in part to a shared passion fo
Mr Xi and Mr Branstad at a state dinner held for the Chinese leader when he visited Iowa in 2012. The two men met back in 1985, during Mr Xi's first trip to the Midwestern state, and have maintained strong bonds, thanks in part to a shared passion for agriculture.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

WASHINGTON • Iowa governor Terry Branstad, a long-time friend of Chinese President Xi Jinping, is the front runner for the crucial post of United States ambassador to China.

A decision could follow meetings between Mr Branstad and members of President-elect Donald Trump's transition team in New York in the coming week, said three people with knowledge of the matter.

The potential move to name Mr Branstad comes at a time of heightened tensions with China, after Mr Trump abandoned almost four decades of diplomatic protocol last Friday by speaking directly to the leader of Taiwan, which Beijing considers a rogue province.

Mr Trump has not stated his choice for secretary of state, the country's top diplomatic post.

The longest-serving governor in US history, Mr Branstad will be in New York this week for previously scheduled work related to Iowa's economic development, his spokesman said.

Meetings with Mr Trump's transition officials are likely to be added to his schedule, according to advisers to both Mr Trump and Mr Branstad. Mr Trump will be in Iowa on Thursday for a stop on his post-election victory tour.

A Republican, Mr Branstad started a second run as governor in 2011. He previously held the job from 1983 to 1999. The decision for Mr Branstad, 70, is complicated by his passion for serving as Iowa's governor and by family pressures.

"I am not ruling anything out," he said on Nov 19 at an annual fund-raiser, reported the Des Moines Register. "But you know my focus has always been here on Iowa, and I want to serve the people of Iowa."

His amicable history with Mr Xi could be one reason Mr Trump is eyeing him for the post.

Two days before the Nov 8 presidential election, during a rally in Sioux City, Mr Trump singled out Mr Branstad as an ideal liaison to China. "You would be our prime candidate to take care of China," Mr Trump said in calling the governor to the stage.

Mr Branstad and Mr Xi met when the Chinese leader made his first trip to Iowa, back in 1985 during a sister-state exchange. At the time, Mr Xi was a young agricultural official from Hebei province, working as director of the Feed Association of Shijiazhuang Prefecture.

The two men have reconnected several times since. Despite their cultural differences, they have forged strong bonds, and used their mutual love of agriculture to bridge the gap between their two countries on human rights, economic issues and other tensions.

In 2012, Mr Branstad feted Mr Xi, then China's vice-president, with an elaborate dinner at the Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines. This year, days after Mr Trump's election, Mr Branstad embarked on a previously planned, week-long trade mission to China and Japan, his fourth trip to China in the past seven years.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 05, 2016, with the headline 'Iowa governor tipped as US ambassador to China'. Print Edition | Subscribe