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Branstad Confirmed as New U.S. Envoy to China

May 23, 2017

The US Senate voted overwhelmingly to confirm Iowa Governor Terry Branstad as ambassador to China on Monday, giving the man who is a friend of presidents of both countries a position to "positively influence the US-China relationship".

Branstad, 70, was confirmed by the US Senate by a roll-call vote of 82-13, after the Senate's Foreign Relations Committee approved his nomination on May 9.

He will resign as governor of Iowa on Wednesday and immediately be sworn in as US ambassador to China, a release from the governor's office said.

Surrounded by staff and family, the gray-haired and mustachioed governor watched the Senate confirm his nomination, a tweet on Branstad's Twitter account showed.

Immediately after the vote, Branstad said, "I look forward to working with both my friend President Donald Trump and my old friend President Xi Jinping for the mutual benefit of both of our countries and the rest of the world."

This echoed his pledge at his confirmation hearing on May 2, when he said, "I hope to use my unique position as an old friend of President Xi and a trusted confidant of President Trump to positively influence the US-China relationship."

Branstad had said the US relationship with China is multifaceted, and not solely focused on trade. At his May 2 hearing, Branstad said the two countries must work together on critical national security issues, including on the Korean Peninsula and cybersecurity.

Dennis Wilder, a senior fellow with the Initiative for US-China Dialogue on Global Issues at Georgetown University, said Branstad has personal relationships with the leaders of both countries and that is a positive thing.

"It would be much easier for Branstad to do his job, because he can speak to the two of them as a friend, not as an employee in the case of President Trump, and not just as another ambassador in Beijing for President Xi," the former senior director for East Asian Affairs at the National Security Council told China Daily.

Branstad is in his sixth nonconsecutive term as Iowa's governor. He was at the helm of Iowa's state government from 1983-1999, and again since 2011. Serving more than 22 years, he is the country's longest-serving governor.

It was during his first term as governor in 1985 that Branstad met with Xi Jinping, who was visiting the state as a county leader from North China. Their friendship has since been nurtured, and Branstad has visited China multiple times.

Li Zhao, president of China operations for the China Iowa Group, said she traveled with Branstad to China in 2013, and witnessed how he worked on promoting Iowa businesses to China.

"In his new role, he will be applying the same passion in promoting all US goods and services, but we know Iowa has a special place in his heart," Zhao said.