Branstad Defends Tough China Approach 09/29 06:19
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
"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.