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AP Interview: Former Iowa Gov. Branstad defends tough approach to China

Terry Branstad - AP image

The departing U.S. ambassador in Beijing is defending a tough approach to China that has riled relations between the world’s two largest economies.

Posted: Sep 29, 2020 6:37 AM

BEIJING (AP) — The departing U.S. ambassador on Tuesday defended a tough approach to China that has riled relations between the world's two largest economies, saying the Trump administration has made progress on trade and that he hopes that will extend to other areas.

Terry Branstad, the longtime Iowa governor chosen by President Donald Trump to be envoy to China, agreed however that China has generally reacted to pressure by responding in kind, from closing consulates to imposing import tariffs.

“The unfortunate thing is we’re trying to rebalance the relationship so we have fairness and reciprocity, but every time we do something, they keep it unbalanced,” he said in an interview at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing.

Branstad is returning to Iowa this weekend after three years and three months as ambassador in Beijing, the longest he and his wife have lived outside of his home state. No successor has been named.

After launching a trade war in 2018 and restricting Chinese telecom giant Huawei on national security grounds, the Trump administration has further ramped up pressure on China this year.

It imposed new restrictions on Chinese diplomats and journalists; closed the Chinese consulate in Houston and repeatedly criticized China on multiple fronts, from its handling of the coronavirus to its military moves in the South China Sea and its human rights record in Hong Kong and the Xinjiang region, home to largely Muslim ethnic groups.

China has rebuked the U.S. and taken parallel measures, including the closing of a U.S. consulate in the southwestern city of Chengdu. With almost daily heated exchanges, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has said that ties face their gravest challenge since the normalization of relations in 1979.

Branstad downplayed such fears, noting the relationship has weathered ups and downs in the past. He conceded, though, the concern that pressure on China could lead to a downward spiral of growing restrictions.

He cited the so-called phase one trade deal, reached in January, and China’s agreement to list fentanyl as a controlled substance as positive developments. The U.S. has been trying to reduce the flow of the opioid from China.

On trade, China promised to strengthen protection of foreign technology rights and industry secrets. China has made similar promises in the past, and companies say they are waiting to see how the commitments are carried out.

“I think in the area of trade, we’ve got their attention and we’re making progress,” Branstad said. “I hope we can in the other (areas), in terms of the treatment of our media, the treatment of our diplomats.”

Branstad, who traveled widely in China during his stint, complained about needing to get government approval for every visit. He asked to go to Tibet three times before his visit last year. Once there, though, he said he had open exchanges with students and teachers. Elsewhere, his experience varied.

The former Iowa governor has longstanding ties to Chinese leader Xi Jinping and was initially seen as someone who could soothe relations. He came to China as governor in 1984 after signing a sister-state agreement with Hebei province, and he met Xi the following year when the then-county level Communist Party official visited Iowa as head of an agricultural delegation.

While the U.S.-China relationship has become fraught, Branstad maintained that such long-term ties remain valuable. He said he has met Xi several times since arriving in China in 2017, including a private family dinner in early 2018 that included Branstad's daughter and grandchildren.

“I think he still has very good feelings about me and about Iowa and the way we treated him,” Branstad said. “And, you know, I found in this culture, personal relationships are important. And yet I represent the United States.”

Branstad blamed the coronavirus for souring the relationship, saying Xi had assured Trump the outbreak was under control when in fact it wasn't. China has been criticized for covering up the crisis in the initial days, though praised for its strict measures to stem the spread later.

“0bviously, that’s had a lot to do with, I think, the president’s feelings towards China,” Branstad said.

Trump has blamed China for the pandemic, which some analysts see as an attempt to deflect blame from his handling of the crisis ahead of a tough re-election battle in November.

Branstad expects to campaign in Iowa for Trump and other Republican candidates. He said he would focus in part on what the administration has done in China and the need to maintain a relationship but insist on fairness.

“I’ve never lost an election and it’s still in my blood,” the 73-year-old political veteran said.

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

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Cases: 612001

Reported Deaths: 7756
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Hennepin1269201801
Ramsey53281911
Dakota47414477
Anoka43426465
Washington27780296
Stearns22738227
St. Louis18329319
Scott17747139
Wright16603153
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Sherburne1217096
Carver1078349
Clay830492
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Crow Wing691299
Kandiyohi672285
Chisago629355
Otter Tail591987
Benton587798
Goodhue487274
Douglas480381
Mower478634
Winona465452
Itasca463768
Isanti447267
McLeod435861
Morrison429262
Beltrami411563
Nobles410950
Steele401619
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Becker389957
Lyon366154
Carlton357158
Freeborn353134
Pine338123
Nicollet335045
Mille Lacs315756
Brown309140
Le Sueur301028
Todd289233
Cass288933
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Cook1740

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

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Cases: 376815

Reported Deaths: 6122
CountyCasesDeaths
Polk59215646
Linn21567342
Scott20530250
Black Hawk16850320
Woodbury15378230
Johnson1479586
Dubuque13627215
Dallas1150699
Pottawattamie11393177
Story1092548
Warren594392
Clinton565894
Cerro Gordo564898
Webster546397
Sioux520574
Muscatine4956106
Marshall493679
Des Moines481776
Jasper454273
Wapello4402124
Buena Vista432340
Plymouth405782
Lee396958
Marion372378
Henry301737
Jones301357
Bremer294663
Carroll287252
Boone273735
Crawford273541
Benton264255
Washington261051
Dickinson251145
Mahaska235151
Jackson225943
Kossuth222166
Clay217927
Tama213872
Delaware213343
Winneshiek201337
Buchanan197834
Page195722
Cedar194323
Hardin192544
Wright191240
Hamilton189251
Fayette188943
Harrison182873
Clayton173258
Butler169135
Madison168019
Floyd165242
Mills164724
Cherokee162238
Lyon161241
Poweshiek159836
Allamakee156452
Hancock154034
Iowa149124
Winnebago147031
Calhoun144813
Cass142155
Grundy139733
Emmet137341
Jefferson135535
Sac133320
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Louisa130749
Union129535
Franklin129223
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Mitchell127343
Chickasaw126017
Humboldt126026
Guthrie125332
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Clarke102624
Monroe101533
Keokuk100432
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Greene80011
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Lucas78323
Worth7648
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