Terry Branstad, the former governor of Iowa, was confirmed as the next US Ambassador to China on May 22 with an 82-13 vote in the Senate. He was sworn in on May 24, minutes after he resigned as governor. Various senators and government officials, including former Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, applauded Branstad’s experience and expertise in US-China relations. During his confirmation hearing, Branstad spoke about further cultivating US-China agricultural connections and finding a mutually acceptable solution for the North Korean dilemma.
Branstad has a longstanding relationship with Chinese President Xi Jinping that dates back to 1985, when Branstad was serving his first term as governor. Xi, then a young agriculture official, visited Muscatine, Iowa as part of a sister-state exchange program with Hebei. Xi returned to visit Muscatine in 2012, where he held a reunion dinner that included Branstad and his host family from 1985. The pair last met in Seattle during Xi’s first state visit to the United States in 2015.
Not only do Iowa and China have extensive diplomatic ties, the two regions also have well-established trade relations. China is an important export market for US soybean, for which Iowa was the largest producer in 2015. The two countries have developed many agricultural trade deals, including the latest $2.1 billion soybean purchase by Chinese buyers in 2016. An Iowa corn and soybean farm was recently replicated in Hebei to foster agricultural diplomacy and develop advanced crop varieties and techniques.
Branstad led numerous trade missions to China as governor, with the most recent trip in November 2016. Kim Reynolds, who took over as governor after Branstad was sworn in as ambassador, will lead an agricultural trade mission to China in July.
Exports to China support more than 4,000 jobs in Iowa. Approximately 5,000 Chinese students study in Iowa universities, contributing $365 million to the state economy.