President-elect Donald Trump has picked Iowa Governor Terry Branstad for the key post of US ambassador to China, US media reported on Wednesday.
Beijing responded by calling Branstad an “old friend” on Wednesday, signalling that his nomination may have the effect of calming tensions with China heightened by Trump over the past week.
Bloomberg first reported the news of Branstad’s appointment on Tuesday evening, saying he had accepted the offer, citing anonymous people close to the matter.
The Iowa governor had met with the Republican billionaire earlier on Tuesday at Trump Tower in New York.
Afterward, Branstad, 70, declined to comment about whether he had been offered a job, telling reporters only that he is excited about a Trump presidency and the “quality of the people that he’s attracting to the cabinet.”
Branstad has known Chinese President Xi Jinping since 1985, when Xi visited Iowa as a provincial official, Bloomberg reported.
Branstad has since visited China several times and gave a dinner for Xi in Des Moines in 2012 nine months before he became Chinese president.
Branstad was also an early supporter of Trump’s campaign. His son Eric served as the state director for the real estate tycoon’s campaign in Iowa.
News of Branstad’s nomination comes amid new tensions with China after Trump smashed almost four decades of diplomatic protocol last week by speaking directly to Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen. The move risked a serious rift with Beijing by calling into question one of its self-described “core interests” -- the “One China” policy.
Tsai’s conversation with Trump was the result of months of lobbying by Taiwan, The New York Times reported.
China regards self-ruling Taiwan as part of its own territory awaiting reunification under Beijing’s rule.
After China protested to Washington at Trump’s breach, the president-elect responded with a Twitter broadside accusing Beijing of currency manipulation and militarizing the South China Sea.
During his campaign this year, Trump also accused China of trying to “rape our country” with unfair trade policies.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry responded to the news about Branstad on Wednesday saying he is “our old friend.”
“We hope he can contribute to the development of bilateral relations,” spokesman Lu Kang told reporters. “We stand ready to work with whoever takes the post to enhance bilateral relations.”
Branstad’s apparent tapping comes amid heated speculation about Trump’s yet-to-be-announced choice for secretary of state and concerns the president-elect’s brash leadership style may shake up global security.