Chinese President Xi Jinping will be given the opportunity to reconnect with his “old friend” Terry Branstad after the Iowa governor was confirmed on Monday as the next US ambassador to China.
The two first met as part of a sister-state exchange in 1985 when the governor welcomed a young agricultural official with a prestigious family background to Iowa to interact with local officials and live out on the farm.
Apparently, Branstad was able to develop something of a connection with this former director of the Feed Association of Shijiazhuang Prefecture who was ultimately destined for greater things. When Xi returned to Iowa on a state visit in 2012 as China’s vice president, Branstad treated him to an elaborate state dinner in the state capital of Des Moines.
While it may seem hard to believe that the two could foster a “friendship” — considering the government taboos, cultural differences and language barriers dividing them — Bloomberg reported last year that the pair have “used their mutual love of agriculture to bridge the gap between their respective countries on human rights, economic issues and other tensions.”
Thanks to his “friendship” with Xi and his steadfast support of Donald Trump during a rocky campaign season, Branstad became an obvious pick as China ambassador following Trump electoral victory in November.
During his hearing earlier this month in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Branstad vowed that he wouldn’t let his personal relationship with the Chinese president get in the way of pursuing American interests, assuring lawmakers that he would take a firm line with Beijing on issues like North Korea, the South China Sea, trade disputes and human rights
Branstad was confirmed overwhelmingly by a vote of 82-13. His posting in Beijing will force him to step down as governor of Iowa, an office that he has held for 22 years over six nonconsecutive terms, making him the longest serving state governor in US history.
While Trump has developed a bromance with Xi as well — trading American beef for Chinese chicken — the US and China remain divided on a number of issues that presumably will put Brandstad and Xi’s “friendship” to the test.
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