America, China, Iowa

By Jack Hellie

Panelists at the Wilson Center discussion on U.S.-China relations on January 19, 2017 (Jack Hellie)

China and the U.S are two world super powers. The relationship is a strong one, and at times a tense one. Billions of dollars in trade value move between the United States and China, making the relationship the most important bilateral relationship in the world.

Inherently, diplomatic relations between the two countries are vital to the relationship enduring. President-elect Trump nominated Iowa Governor Terry Branstad to be his ambassador to China in December. So why would a Governor from a state with only three million people, in the very middle of the country, be the best choice to represent the United States’ interests in China?

China and Iowa have closer ties than one might think. In fact, China is one of the largest export markets for Iowa goods (pork, soybeans), accounting for $1.2 Billion annualy. Governor Branstad has close ties to Chinese President Xi, and has made visits to the country numerous times since the 1980s. Under President Obama, most China-U.S. diplomatic relations were handled directly from the White House. Under President-elect Trump, it is difficult to predict what he will do, and how he will lead.

Donald Trump has already heightened tensions between the U.S. and China by speaking on the phone with the leader of Taiwan. This is key because Taiwan is considered by China to be it’s province, and does not see it as a sovereign state.

A brief history lesson: Following World War II, China had a civil war between the Nationalist Party and the Communist Party. The Communist Party essentially defeated the Nationalists and the exiled themselves to Taiwan, although some contend the impetus behind the move.

Thus, China does not see Taiwan as a state, and would not accept the U.S. having legitimate diplomatic ties or communications with their errant territory, as President-elect Trump did. While Trump did not initiate the call, it still is a clear example of Trump’s unorthodox and unpredictable nature.

China and the U.S. have an entangled relationship. Andrew Wedeman, a fellow at the Wilson Center in Washington, D.C., made the point that you can’t hurt one and country and help the other, because the economies are so entwined.

This strengthens the case for an ambassador to China who has a vested interest in a successful Chinese-American diplomatic relationship, and a personal relationship with and dealings with China’s leaders. The idea of Donald Trump choosing the Governor of Iowa to represent the United States in China might seem bizarre from the outside, but when you look closely at the relationship between Iowa and China, it makes sense.



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