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Senate committee approves Terry Branstad for US ambassador to China

Terry Branstad Photo: AP

A Senate panel on Tuesday officially approved Iowa Governor Terry Branstad as US ambassador to China.

The decision all but assures full Senate confirmation of President Donald Trump's pick for the key diplomatic post.

Members of the Foreign Relations Committee approved Branstad's nomination by voice vote. The full Senate is expected to vote on the nomination in the next week or two.

Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland, the committee's top Democrat, said that Branstad is "fully qualified" for the job at a time when the Trump administration is pushing the Chinese to act more aggressively to defuse North Korea's nuclear weapons program.

"Governor Branstad's bipartisan, unanimous approval by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee should come as no surprise considering how well he did during his hearing," Sen. Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican, said in a press release. "His significant experience working with the Chinese government on behalf of Iowans and the personal friendships he has developed with Chinese leaders over the years make him uniquely prepared to be the next US ambassador to China."

The 70-year-old Branstad, the nation's longest-serving governor, testified last week before the committee that he would raise human rights and intellectual property issues with his Chinese counterparts and described a long association with the Chinese President Xi Jinping. Calling US-China relationship "multi-faceted," Branstad also noted that the two countries must work together on major security issues, including the denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula and cybersecurity.

In Des Moines on Tuesday, Branstad said that he did not watch the committee hearing — he was reviewing budget bills when a staffer broke in with news of the vote.

"They brought the word in and said it was a voice vote in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee," he said. "I was pleased to hear that. That's encouraging."

Branstad said that he believes the full Senate could vote on his confirmation as early as next week, setting into motion a frenzied transfer of power in Iowa and transition for his family to Beijing.

Once confirmed, Branstad said that he would resign as governor within a few days. After that, he and First Lady Chris Branstad will undergo a lengthy orientation process and head to China sometime in June.

Branstad met Xi for the first time when, as a junior provincial leader, Xi led a Chinese agriculture contingent to Iowa in the mid-1980s.

Asked several times if his close ties to Xi might make it difficult to raise issues that might cause Chinese leaders to "lose face" — or be embarrassed about an issue that, culturally, would be expected to be raised privately — Branstad said he would not be "bashful about bringing these issues up."

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