As Others See It: Branstad a good fit for China job
During a Sioux City rally two days before the Nov. 8 presidential election, President-elect Donald Trump declared Gov. Terry Branstad "our prime candidate to take care of China."
On Wednesday, Trump announced Branstad — Iowa's six-term governor and the longest-serving state chief executive in U.S. history — was his nominee as ambassador to China.
What taking care of China entails we'll wait to see, but Branstad was a welcome choice.
Trump had been doing everything possible to offend China. On the campaign trail, he warned it to "behave" on trade and currency issues or face 45 percent tariffs. Since his election, he broke with diplomatic protocol and spoke on the phone with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen — a first since the U.S. officially recognized China in 1979.
China subsequently denounced Trump in a front-page editorial of its overseas People's Daily.
But Chinese spokesman Lu Kang applauded the Branstad nomination.
"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," he remarked. "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 development of Sino-U.S. relations."
President Xi Jinping and Branstad, indeed, are "old friends," having forged a real bond because of Iowa'slongstanding agricultural ties to China that date back to Gov. Robert Ray's visit to China in 1974.
Xi began his ascent in China as an agricultural official in Hebei province, Iowa's sister state. He was part of its delegation that met with Branstad — and Iowa farm families — during his first visit to the U.S. in 1985. He also visited with Branstad in China in 2011. A year later, Branstad hosted a dinner for Xi, who had become vice president, at the state Capitol in Des Moines.
Branstad has made seven visits to China, the most recent a week after the election when he met with the agricultural minister in Hebei.
According to Chinese media, its agricultural imports from Iowa increased by a factor of 13 between 2000 and 2010 — a period, ironically, between Branstad administrations — to $6.3 billion.
Branstad, whose son, Eric, managed Trump's Iowa campaign, will have his work cut out for him.
As Jie Dalei, an assistant professor at the School of International Studies of Peking University, told the Washington Post, the appointment "could help communication, but won't have much impact at the decision-making level."
"(Trump's) tweets and remarks certainly have attracted the most attention," he said. "Compared to that, the appointment of an ambassador to China, though very thoughtful, is unlikely to fix the damage caused by the uncertainty of his tweets and Taiwan call."
U.S. businesses in China are already feeling the heat from Xi. An American Chamber of Commerce in China business survey found 77 percent of companies feel unwelcome compared to 44 percent a year ago, including 83 percent in technology.
In regard to the economic competition, we expect Trump will do another about-face — this time on the Trans-Pacific Partnership. During the campaign Trump criticized the multinational trade pact to undercut Chinese influence, but it has support of congressional Republicans and the Obama administration.
The reset of relations with Taiwan will be the most contentious problem facing Branstad.
Taiwan is the island refuge established by Chinese nationalists who fled the mainland in 1949 amid the Communist revolution led by Mao Zedong.
The mainland government calls itself the People's Republic of China. It considers Taiwan a breakaway province and is committed to reunification. Taiwan, a democracy, calls itself the Republic of China.
In 1992, both sides agreed to only one China, just not what it means. President Tsai has not endorsed that agreement.
The U.S. and most foreign states also recognize "One China" — the Beijing government — while maintaining unofficial ties with Taiwan.
So when Trump called Tsai "the president of Taiwan" on Twitter, it annoyed Beijing. Then again, it wasn't a first. The U.S. sells arms to Taiwan, and the Clinton administration granted a visa to the Taiwanese president in 1995.
"One China" may not make sense, particularly when Taiwan is a thriving underdog worthy of support, and China can be a detestable big bully. But detente has been the cautious option to possibly inciting confrontation.
Also, cordial relations with China may help rein in nuclear North Korea.
We congratulate Branstad on his nomination. He is a good choice, one that possibly bodes well for Iowaagriculture.
But with Trump looming as the proverbial bull in the China shop, Branstad may need to frequently call upon his friendship with Xi to keep all the precarious pieces of U.S.-Sino relations together