“Governor Branstad is an old friend of the Chinese people. We welcome him to play a great role in promoting the development of China-U.S. relations.”
This was an official statement released by Beijing in December 2016 following then President-elect Donald Trump’s nomination of Terry Branstad (72), Governor of Iowa, as U.S. Ambassador to China.
Apparently, Branstad’s relationship with Chinese President Xi Jinping spanning over three decades, was why Beijing hailed the news. In 1985, Xi, then a young official from Zhengding County, Hebei Province, headed an agricultural delegation to Iowa to meet with Gov. Branstad. Branstad was considerate enough to let Xi and his delegation experience America’s typical household life and watch a baseball game during their stay.
Twenty-seven years later, in February 2012, then Vice President Xi arranged his schedule to stop by Iowa to meet with Branstad following a visit to the White House, and in June, he invited and welcomed with hospitality Branstad to his house in Beijing.
However, in a year and three months into his role as U.S. Ambassador to China (since June 2017), Branstad wrote an editorial criticizing China last Sunday in Des Moines Register, the largest daily newspaper of Iowa, saying, “In disseminating its propaganda, China’s government is availing itself of America’s cherished tradition of free speech and a free press.”
“In contrast, at the newsstand down the street here in Beijing, you will find limited dissenting voices and will not see any true reflection of the disparate opinions that the Chinese people may have on China’s troubling economic trajectory,” he wrote. “Media is under the firm thumb of the Chinese Communist Party.” The editorial squarely points a finger at the paramount leader of the Communist Party, President Xi, who has been a decades-long friend of Branstad.
The Ambassador’s harsh criticism of the Chinese government may have stemmed from Beijing’s direct attack on President Donald Trump. The Des Moines Register is a newspaper in which the China Daily, China’s state-run English newspaper, recently took out a paid advertisement to criticize President Trump and his administration’s actions on trade.
What also got on his nerves was China’s newly imposed tariffs against U.S. soybeans, major agricultural products of Iowa. For Branstad, who served as the state’s governor for 23 years, it must have been hard to stand idle, seeing the base of his political career on the verge of collapse.
While stressing deep ties with President Xi, Ambassador Branstad has not been hesitant to bluntly criticize China for trade, human rights, and North Korean issues thus far.
“We’ve had a situation for many years where China has not treated American companies fairly,” he said in an interview with an American media outlet in March. In May last year, at his confirmation hearing at the Senate, he also said that “The fact that the leader of China calls us an old friend, doesn’t mean that I’m going to be at all reluctant or bashful of bringing up issues, be it human rights or intellectual property rights.” Branstad also said that he would use his decades of experience with China to press Beijing to do more to encourage North Korea to curb its nuclear ambitions.
Wan-Jun Yun firstname.lastname@example.org