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Branstad steps down from China ambassador post

Jacqui Fatka

September 14, 2020

U.S. Ambassador to the People’s Republic of China Terry Branstad will retire from his position as U.S. envoy and depart Beijing, China, in early October. The ambassador confirmed his decision to President Donald Trump by phone last week.

Branstad’s appointment to the post was hailed by many in agricultural circles because of his history with China's President Xi Jinping during Xi’s time in Iowa decades ago.

Branstad and his family arrived in China in June 2017. In an internal town hall meeting at the U.S. Embassy on Monday, Branstad thanked the embassy staff and consulates in China for all of their hard work. “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.

Branstad helped lead the embassy’s successful effort to reduce the flow of Chinese fentanyl into the U.S. In 2018, following months of negotiations, China agreed to schedule fentanyl and all of its derivatives as a controlled substance. The agreement will likely save thousands of American lives, the embassy said in a release. The ambassador noted that it has been an extraordinary honor to represent the U.S. President and the American people over the last three years and three months. “We are rebalancing the U.S.-China relationship so that it is fair and reciprocal and can fuel positive growth in both countries,” Branstad said. He also noted that during his tenure, he traveled to 26 provinces and autonomous regions in China and would have visited all of them if COVID-19 had not limited his domestic travel: “Getting to know the Chinese people, meeting them in their homes and hearing their personal stories has been one of the great privileges of this job.” 

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo thanked Branstad for his service via Twitter, saying the ambassador’s contribution to rebalancing U.S.-China trade relations will have lasting, positive effects on U.S. foreign policy in the Asian Pacific for decades to come. Iowa Soybean Assn. (ISA) president Jeff Jorgenson said Iowa soybean farmers recognize Branstad for his work during an important time in U.S.-China trade relations.

“Although the Iowa Soybean Assn. is disappointed that he’s stepping down, we certainly respect his decision,” Jorgenson said. “Since taking on this important role for our country, he has worked tirelessly to represent America’s interests in China. Through all the challenges, Branstad has been a forceful and important voice for all Americans, particularly for Iowa and Iowa’s farmers.”

He added, “Given China’s importance as a global soybean buyer, ISA leadership has often called upon him for insight and to share our perspectives. We have had multiple meetings with him during his time as ambassador, both in China and in Iowa. We always left those meetings knowing we had a friend working on our behalf. Iowa soybean farmers say, ‘Thank you, Ambassador Branstad, and welcome home.’”

Branstad will return to Iowa after leaving Beijing.


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