The American ambassador to China Terry Branstad announced on Monday he will be stepping down from his role in early October after three years in the job, amid rising tensions between the two countries.
China said it has yet to receive official notification of Branstad’s decision.
Branstad, who is known for having a personal relationship with Chinese President Xi Jinping, will leave Beijing for Iowa before the U.S. presidential election later this year. He confirmed his decision to the U.S. President Donald Trump by phone last week, according to a statement from the U.S. Embassy in Beijing.
The reasons for Branstad’s departure were not immediately clear and a replacement is yet to be lined up. Branstad thanked the U.S. Embassy and consulates in China for their hard work at an internal town hall meeting on Monday.
“I am proudest of our work in getting the Phase One trade deal and delivering tangible results for our communities back home. Our goal remains meaningful, measurable results for American families. We have made significant progress and we will not stop pressing for more,” he was quoted as saying in the statement.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted on Monday to thank Branstad for his service to the American people. He said Trump chose Branstad to be ambassador because his decades of experience dealing with China made him the best person to represent the U.S. and to defend American interests and ideals.
“Ambassador Branstad has contributed to rebalancing U.S.-China relations so that it is results-oriented, reciprocal, and fair. This will have lasting, positive effects on U.S. foreign policy in the Asia-Pacific for decades to come,” Pompeo tweeted.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin told reporters at a regular briefing that Beijing has noted the tweets but has yet to receive notification of Branstad’s departure.
Trump mentioned that Branstad was returning to Iowa to campaign on his behalf during a call with Senator Joni Ernst last Saturday, without mentioning the ambassador’s departure, according to CBS.
Branstad is the longest serving governor in U.S. history, heading Iowa between 1982 and 1999, and again between 2011 and 2017. He was known as an “old friend of China” as Xi, who was a provincial-level official in 1985, visited Iowa to learn about agricultural techniques. Iowa left a good impression on Xi, Branstad told AFP at the time.
Xi received Branstad in Beijing when he visited in 2011, and made a return trip to Iowa the next year as the deputy president of China, signing billions of dollars' worth of agricultural trade deals.
Branstad wrote an op-ed entitled “Resetting the Relationship Based on Reciprocity” and sent it to the state-run People’s Daily last week, who rejected it due to “numerous factual mistakes.”
Pompeo slammed the newspaper and said it exposed the Chinese Communist Party’s “fear of free speech and serious intellectual debate” as well as “Beijing’s hypocrisy when it complains about lack of fair and reciprocal treatment in other countries.” The newspaper hit back to say it has held an “active and open attitude to the submission of articles from international friends who are objective and impartial about China” for a long time including that of Branstad.
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