Pompeo Thanks U.S. Envoy to China, Hinting at Change at Embassy

Source: By Bloomberg News • Posted: Monday, September 14, 2020

Terry Branstad
Terry Branstad Photographer: Al Drago/Bloomberg

Secretary of State Michael Pompeo thanked Ambassador to China Terry Branstad for his service, appearing to confirm an earlier statement by President Donald Trump saying that the U.S.’s top diplomat was leaving Beijing.

In a series of tweets, Pompeo praised Branstad’s contribution to “rebalancing” the U.S.’s relationship with China. Still, the secretary stopped short of saying explicitly whether Branstad was continuing on the job.

The U.S. Embassy in Beijing didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told a briefing on Monday that Beijing had not received formal notification that Branstad was departing.

Trump said Branstad would return to the U.S. while praising the campaign efforts of the ambassador’s son, Eric Branstad. “Eric’s father’s coming home from China because he wants to campaign,” Trump said, in a phone message over the weekend to supporters of Senator Joni Ernst, an Iowa Republican.

Branstad, a former long-time Iowa governor, was chosen in part because of his familiarity with Chinese President Xi Jinping, who visited the Midwestern U.S. state during a trip abroad in the 1980s. China praised his appointment, hailing Branstad as an “old friend of the Chinese people,” a moniker reserved for a select few statesman credited with improving Beijing’s ties with the wider world.

Instead, Branstad has presided over the most contentious periods since the two sides established diplomatic relations more than 40 years ago, including tit-for-tat consulate closures and restrictions on diplomats. Last week, China’s foreign ministry accused Branstad of participating in an attempt to “trap” China by asking state media media to publish an opinion piece “with lies and malicious smears.”

— With assistance by James Mayger, Lucille Liu, and Colum Murphy

(Adds China Foreign Ministry comment.)