Terry Branstad to China? Ambassador chatter heats back up

Source: By Brianne Pfannenstiel, Des Moines Register • Posted: Monday, December 5, 2016

Speculation over whether Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad will be named ambassador to China ramped up Saturday as the governor prepares for an economic development trip to New York later this week.

The Independent Journal Review reported Branstad is scheduled to meet with President-elect Donald Trump to discuss the position during the trip, which was previously planned. However, the governor’s spokesman, Ben Hammes, said in an email that no meeting with the Trump transition team has been scheduled.

Branstad is scheduled to be in New York from Tuesday through Thursday.

Trump triggered a dust-up with Chinese officials Friday by participating in a phone call with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, reigniting conversations about who he might choose to be the U.S. representative to China. China does not recognize Taiwan’s independence, and the phone call broke a decades-long diplomatic tradition.

The president-elect defended himself on Twitter, saying: “The President of Taiwan CALLED ME today to wish me congratulations on winning the Presidency. Thank you! … Interesting how the U.S. sells Taiwan billions of dollars of military equipment but I should not accept a congratulatory call.”

Branstad became the focus of speculation for the post of U.S. ambassador to China when Trump told a crowd in Sioux City prior to his election that nobody knows more about trade than Iowa’s governor.

“He would be my prime candidate to take care of China,” Trump said.

Branstad has maintained a long friendship with Chinese President Xi Jinping, who first visited Iowa in 1985 before his rise to prominence and then again in 2012 as vice president. The relationship has led to better trade relations between with China, which is a major consumer of Iowa soybeans and pork.

Branstad, who was a loyal Trump supporter through the general election and whose son was Trump’s Iowa state director, recently told reporters he was keeping an open mind about the possibility of serving in the Trump administration.

“I want to stay in Iowa,” he said. “But I am also one that understands that if you get requested by the president of the United States to consider doing something else, you should not shut the door before you even know about it. I don’t know that I am going to be offered anything. I am not seeking anything. I just want to do this job. I want to do it well. But if the administration wants me to consider something, it would not be right for me to say, ‘No, I wouldn’t consider it.'”

Register reporter Jason Noble contributed to this article.