In an unexpected move, former Iowa Gov Terry Branstad is stepping down from his position as the US Ambassador to China after more than three years on the job as tensions between Washington and Beijing reach a fever pitch ahead of the November election.
He's expected to leave Beijing in October, which means he'll be gone before the November election.
That will leave the US without a Congressionally-confirmed ambassador in place in Beijing during what's expected to be one of the most difficult elections in US history. Allegations of meddling from China, Russia and other states have only exacerbated a national mood of paranoia.
Trump proclaimed that Barnstad had been offered the ambassador job because of his deep links to China, and his personal friendship with President Xi, whom he has known since 1985 through the US-China government exchanges.
Branstad was chosen early on, and was seen as a major 'get' for Trump during the early days, given Branstad's status as the former governor of Iowa, an agricultural state with deep trade links to China.
I thank Ambassador Terry Branstad for his more than three years of service to the American people as U.S. Ambassador to the People’s Republic of China.— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) September 14, 2020
President @realDonaldTrump 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.— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) September 14, 2020
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.— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) September 14, 2020
His departure comes just days after China announced on Friday that it would slap new restrictions on top US diplomats in retaliation for similar restrictions targeting Chinese diplomats adopted by the US earlier this month.
Though Sec of State Mike Pompeo tweeted thanking Branstad for his service, Chinese officials say they weren't warned about his decision. China Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin, noted Pompeo’s tweet, but said a fomal notice hasn't been submitted, deepening the mystery surrounding the move.