WASHINGTON — President-elect Donald Trump might just be looking for some détente with China based on his pick for U.S. Ambassador to China — Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad.
Trump said Wednesday he intends to nominate Branstad for the important diplomatic position.
Branstad, whose relationship with President Xi Jinping dates back to the Eighties, according to Trump’s communications office, will take over the helm at an increasingly tense time in U.S.-China relations.
China’s relationship with Trump, who does not take office until next month, has already shown apparent signs of strain in the wake of the president elect’s antitrade rhetoric that has been leveled at the country.
“Gov. Branstad’s decades of experience in public service and long-time relationship with President Xi Jinping and other Chinese leaders make him the ideal choice to serve as America’s Ambassador to China,” Trump’s office said. “He successfully developed close trade ties with China while serving as chief executive of the Hawkeye State. That experience will serve him well as he represents America’s interests and further develops a mutually beneficial relationship with Chinese leadership.”
Branstad said, “I have known President Xi Jinping for many years and consider him an old friend. I look forward to building on our long friendship to cultivate and strengthen the relationship between our two countries and to benefit our economy.”
Trump’s team touted the goodwill Branstad has generated with Chinese officials over the years. Branstad has led seven trade missions to China, the first being to Hebei Province in 1984.
He is also considered an “old friend,” which is a culturally significant title, by Xi and has a long-standing relationship with the Chinese Ambassador to the U.S. Cui Tiankai, according to Trump’s team.
They said Branstad collaborated with the Ministry of Agriculture for China, including meetings with Minister Han Changfu, and has worked closely with Madam Li Xiaolin of the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries to further relationships between states in America and Chinese provinces.
“Gov. Branstad supports President-elect Trump’s mission to negotiate trade deals that put America’s interests first,” Trump’s team said. “He will work with President-elect Trump’s economic team to negotiate fair trade deals that create American jobs, increase American wages and reduce America’s trade deficit. He will also work with President-elect Trump’s national security team to implement an America First foreign policy that will advance America’s core national interests and promote regional stability.”
Trump railed against China throughout the campaign and as President-elect he said he will label China a currency manipulator in his first 100 days in office. He has also repeatedly vowed to impose tariffs as high as 45 percent on imports from China, which has many in the fashion industry worried.
China is the top supplier of apparel and textiles to the U.S. In 2015, those combined imports totaled $43.2 billion.
Many major retailers and brands make clothing and footwear in China and import it back to the U.S. As a result, many companies would be potentially hurt if tariffs were imposed on their imports and consumers could face higher prices on goods.
Julia K. Hughes, president at the U.S. Fashion Industry Association, said: “It is very positive for Trump to nominate Gov. Branstad, who comes from a state that is a major exporter of agricultural products to the world and especially to China.”
She said he “sees the positive side of trade.”
“There is no question that there still is anxiety about what policies the Trump administration will pursue related to trade,” Hughes said. “But once again naming someone who has actively been engaged and understands that trade is a two-way street is obviously a positive.”
She noted that China is the top supplier of apparel and textiles to the U.S., as well as many hardlines that U.S. retailers and brands sell.
“When we look across the board, business with China, the relationship with China is very important, not to mention the importance of Chinese consumers for sales of American brands which is a growing business,” she added.
Hughes said if Trump does carry out some of his pledges like imposing a 45 percent tariff on imports from China there would be a chilling effect on trade.
But she said she is hopeful that “it doesn’t come to that.”
“Part of the rhetoric [as Trump’s nominee for Commerce Secretary, Wilbur Ross, suggested] is to get China to the negotiating table and talk about these issues and changes of policy, more than actually jumping right to retaliation,” Hughes said.
Hun Quach, vice president for international trade at the Retail Industry Leaders Association, said the position is “one of America’s most important relationships.”
“We know Gov. Branstad will bring his deep knowledge of trade and innovation to the job as he works to advocate on behalf of America’s interests,” Quach said.