U.S. Ambassador to China Terry Branstad will step down from his position after three years — The embassy said Branstad will “retire from his position as U.S. envoy and depart Beijing in early October.”
The embassy said Branstad, 73, “confirmed his decision to President (Donald) Trump by phone last week.”
Trump said during a phone call with supporters of Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) over the weekend that Branstad, formerly governor of Iowa, would be “coming home from China because he wants to campaign.”
Branstad’s son Eric, 42, was the Iowa director for Trump’s 2016 campaign and is already reportedly working on the 2020 re-election effort, a contribution the president acknowledged in his phone call before revealing the elder Branstad would be coming home.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday thanked Branstad for “his more than three years of service to the American people as U.S. Ambassador to the People’s Republic of China.”
“President Trump chose Ambassador Branstad because his decades-long experience dealing with China made him the best person to represent the Administration and to defend American interests and ideals in this important relationship,” Pompeo said.
“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 concluded.
Branstad made the same point about the importance of “rebalancing the U.S.-China relationship so that it is fair and reciprocal and can fuel positive growth in both countries” in a meeting with embassy staff 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 said.
The Chinese government was evidently surprised by news of Branstad’s impending departure. The Chinese Foreign Ministry said on Monday that it still has not been formally notified that he is stepping down. The Trump administration has yet to name a replacement and, as Reuters pointed out, the U.S. Senate is only scheduled to be in session for two more weeks before Election Day, so Branstad’s post might not be filled quickly.
Branstad has mostly been in the news lately during moments of tension with China — paying a visit to Tibet in 2019, getting summoned by the Chinese government to hear complaints about U.S. policy on Hong Kong, and most recently, writing an op-ed that China’s state-controlled media refused to publish — but the ambassador was generally well-respected in China, and his departure was swiftly judged as a sign of deteriorating relations by media analysts.
“The Chinese foreign ministry has in the past described Branstad, who was instrumental in a so-called Phase One trade deal with China, as an ‘old friend of the Chinese people.’ He first forged ties with President Xi Jinping several decades ago when Xi visited Iowa,” Reuters noted.