President-Elect Donald Trump is expected to nominate Terry Branstad to serve as the United States’ ambassador to China.
Branstad is the current governor of Iowa who is in the middle of his sixth four-year term. This role is more important this year than ever considering Trump’s rocky relationship with China, having repeatedly criticized them throughout the campaign trail and recently taking a phone call from Taiwan, which China does not recognize as a sovereign nation. The president-elect also recently went on a Twitter rant against the country.
But Branstad has a close relationship with China and specifically with the nation’s president, Xi Jinping. Republicans praised the nomination on Wednesday morning, and Trump is expected to make this choice official at his “Thank You” rally in Iowa on Thursday night.
Here’s what you need to know about Terry Branstad and his relationship with China.
1. Terry Branstad Is a Personal Friend of Xi Jinping
Not only does Terry Branstad have a good diplomatic relationship with China, but he is also a personal friend of the nation’s president, Xi Jinping.
Branstad was serving as the governor of Iowa in 1985 when Xi traveled to the state as an agricultural official. They met many more times over the years and formed a relationship in part due to their mutual fondness for agriculture, according to the South China Morning Post.
Recently, Branstad spent a week on a trade mission to China, which was his fourth trip there over the past seven years. During a trip to China in 2011, the two spoke in private for about 45 minutes, according to The Washington Post. Branstad also held a dinner for Jinping at the Iowa Capitol in 2012.
2. China Has Welcomed the Choice, Calling Branstad an Old Friend
Although Branstad’s nomination is not yet official, China’s foreign ministry reacted to reports of his nomination quite positively.
“First of all, I would like to say that Mr. Branstad is an old friend of the Chinese people and we welcome him to play a greater role in promoting Sino-U. S. relations, “spokesman Lu Kang said during a news conference this week, according to The Washington Post. “The U.S. ambassador to China is an important bridge between the U.S. government and the Chinese government. No matter who is in this position, we are willing to work with him to push forward the sound, steady and steady development of Sino-U. S. relations.”
During a rally in Iowa shortly before the election, Trump indicated that Branstad could be his pick for ambassador to China.
“You would be our prime candidate to take care of China,” Trump said to the Iowa governor on stage.
3. Branstad’s State Has Economic Ties to China
In addition to having a good personal relationship with China’s president, Branstad also has an economic relationship with the nation.
Iowa is the United States’ top corn producer and one of the top soybean producers, and in 2012, soybean buyers from China announced a $4 billion deal with the United States, according to Reuters.
America’s agriculture exports to China reached a record level last year. According to Bloomberg, Iowa exported $2.3 billion in goods to China in 2015, with $1.4 billion of that being made up of crop exports.
4. Some Experts Are Unsure About His Experience
Although Branstad has done business with China for many years, some say they are unsure whether he has the diplomatic experience necessary to be the ambassador to China.
Diplomats and trade experts who spoke with Reuters said that they did not know that the Iowa governor was prepared for the delicate task of diplomacy and of dealing with the Beijing government.
In addition to serving as governor of Iowa from 1983 to 1999 and then from 2011 until today, Branstad’s experience also includes work as president of Des Moines University and chair of President George W. Bush’s Commission for Excellence in Special Education.
5. Donald Trump’s Recent Call With Taiwan Angered China
The nomination of Terry Branstad comes at a crucial time, as President-Elect Donald Trump recently angered the nation of China with a major diplomatic faux-pas.
Last week, Donald Trump took a phone call from Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen. He became the first president in decades to do so; China does not recognize Taiwan as a legitimate nation, and countries with diplomatic ties to China do not also have official diplomatic ties with Taiwan.
Although Chinese officials initially downplayed the importance of this phone call, Lu Kang, China’s foreign ministry spokesman, said in a press conference on Monday that Beijing had made its unhappiness known to Trump’s transition team, according to The Wall Street Journal.
In the past, Trump has threatened to impose a tariff of 35 to 45 percent on Chinese exports.