President-elect Donald Trump has tapped Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad to serve as U.S. ambassador to China, the transitional office confirmed Wednesday.
The longest-serving governor in U.S. history, Branstad has extensive ties to China and a close friendship with the Chinese President Xi Jinping that goes back decades.
His selection had been rumored for some time. Trump hinted that Branstad could be his representative in Beijing in a speech in Sioux City, Iowa, two days before the election. "I think there's nobody that knows more about trade than him," Trump said. "He's one of the ones in dealing with China where you would be our prime candidate to take care of China."
Branstad's selection needs to be confirmed by the Senate.
Trump repeatedly hammered China on the campaign trail over its trade policies and what he says is its currency manipulation. Then the president-elect raised eyebrows with phone conversation late last week with Taiwan's president Tsai Ing-wen.
Before that conversation last Friday, neither a president nor president-elect had any known contact with a Taiwanese leader since 1979, when the U.S. broke off diplomatic relations and recognized only one China between the mainland and Taiwan.
Branstad's relationship with the Chinese leader dates back to at least 1985, when Branstad was in his first term as governor and Xi was a mid-level Communist Party official dealing with agriculture.
As The Des Moines Register says the relationship between them took on a more significant meaning following a trade mission five years ago.
"The pair rekindled their friendship in 2011, when Branstad met with Xi during a trade mission to China and invited him back to the state.
"Xi, then the vice president of China, accepted Branstad's offer in 2012, attending a state dinner at the Iowa Capitol, visiting 'old friends' from his initial visit in Muscatine and touring a massive farming operation in Maxwell. [Xi] became the president of China less than a year later."
Branstand, 70, is a titan in Iowa politics. He served four consecutive terms from 1983 to 1999. He was reelected again in 2011 and would be succeeded by Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds, the first woman to lead the state.
During the 2016 Republican primaries, Branstad held off from officially endorsing any candidate before the Iowa Caucuses in February, but was seen as closest to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Branstad eventually endorsed Trump in May, near the end of the primary season.
Trump will visit Iowa on Thursday evening as part of his post-election victory tour. He will appear in Des Moines along with Branstad and Vice President-elect Mike Pence.