US envoy to Beijing retires amid strained ties

Top News | AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE 15 Sep 2020

The US ambassador to China, Terry Branstad, is stepping down at a time of increasingly strained ties between the nations.

Thanking Branstad for his service, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he had "contributed to rebalancing US-China relations so that it is results-oriented, reciprocal and fair."

In a statement, the US embassy in Beijing confirmed the departure, saying Branstad is retiring and will leave Beijing next month. It added that he had confirmed his decision to President Donald Trump by phone last week.

The 73-year-old had been in his post since May 2017.

"I am proudest of our work in getting the phase one trade deal and delivering tangible results for our communities back home," the statement quoted him as saying.

It noted his work pushing Beijing to class the powerful opioid fentanyl as a controlled substance, making its sale to the United States subject to China's maximum legal penalty.

It did not give any details on who would take over at the embassy.

Branstad, who was previously governor of Iowa for more than 20 years covering two periods, represented Washington during a period when tensions with Beijing were heightened over trade, regional territorial claims, the coronavirus pandemic and unrest in Hong Kong.

In June, he was summoned by Beijing after Trump signed a law that paved the way for sanctions over Hong Kong - slammed as "gross interference in China's internal affairs."

Last year, he called on Beijing to open a "substantive dialogue" with the Dalai Lama during a rare visit to Tibet, where the central government is accused of widespread repression.

An early supporter of Trump's run for the White House in 2016, Branstad was appointed soon after the election.

Trump's transition team praised his "tremendous understanding of China and Chinese people."

He was reported to have a long-standing relationship with President Xi Jinping, who he first met in the 1980s.

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