Governor Terry Branstad foresees both “danger and opportunity” ahead in the relationship between the United States and China.
Branstad, who is the nation’s longest-serving governor, is rumored to be among President-elect Trump’s top choices to be ambassador to China.
“I learned something on my very first trip to China in 1984,” Branstad told reporters this morning. “…The Chinese symbol for danger and opportunity is one and the same. I think that’s kind of interesting and I think that kind of sums up where we are today. America is a world super power and China is a growing super power as well.”
Branstad leaves for a previously-scheduled economic development trip to New York City tomorrow and has a commercial plane ticket to return on Thursday. Branstad’s scheduled to meet at some point with Trump before he leaves New York.
“We have a tentative appointment, but we don’t know for sure exactly when it’s going to be,” Branstad said. “Obviously the president-elect’s schedule is very busy and it changes.”
Trump himself first suggested on November 6 that Branstad would make a good ambassador to China. Branstad has repeatedly told reporters ever since that he’s not been offered the post and doesn’t want to speculate, but the governor admitted he has visited with his family about the prospect.
“It’s a decision that would be a family decision if, indeed, it is offered by the president-elect and my wife and I have had several conversations,” Branstad said. “We’ve had family conversations with our children as well and we’re going to continue that.”
Branstad’s three adult children, their spouses and seven grandchildren all live in the Des Moines area.
AUDIO of Branstad’s weekly news conference
Branstad’s oldest son, Eric, served as state director for Trump’s campaign and has his own meeting with Trump in New York soon. Governor Branstad did not back any candidate in the run-up to Iowa’s 2016 Caucuses, but the governor has been a staunch supporter of Trump since the businessman secured the GOP’s presidential nomination.
“Who would have ever imagined that a billionaire and New York businessman would be able to connect as well as he has with the blue collar working people of America, the farmers and rural Americans who feel that they’ve been forgotten and disregarded by the administration and the powers that be,” Branstad said. “I think it’s a pretty phenomenal thing that’s occurred and I, certainly, am proud of what he accomplished.”
Trump is scheduled to hold a rally in Iowa on Thursday night. Branstad plans to be there. Branstad, during his weekly news conference, fielded questions about China after touting an event at the state historical museum.
A reporter started the question-and-answer session by asking Branstad if he would accept the post in China if Trump offers it.
“It hasn’t been offered and I love my job as governor and this is my focus,” Branstad replied, listing state government issues he hopes to tackle with the Republican-led legislature.
Branstad also was asked for his view of the Community Party in China. Branstad referred to it as “one-party rule.”
“I saw what it was like my first trip in ’84. Almost everybody was wearing bicycles. They were still wearing the old Mao-type outfits. It was very drab. The only thing of color was, maybe, the clothing the children were wearing,” Branstad said. “Well, it’s changed to dramatically since they adopted a market-driven economy.”
Branstad said over the centuries, the Chinese have been “ambitious, entrepreneurial people.”
“Once they developed a market-driven economy, even under their one-party rule, they have dramatically improved the lives of their people and consequently they’ve had a growing middle class. They’ve had significant urbanization,” Branstad said, “…and yet they have more farmers in China than we have people in the United States, so it’s still very much an agricultural country.”
The current president of China visited Iowa in 1985 when he was a regional official in the Communist Party. In 2012, just before he became the country’s president, Xi Jinping returned to Iowa and Branstad hosted an elaborate state dinner at the capitol in Des Moines.
If Branstad were to resign as governor, Iowa would have its first female governor. That’s because Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds would take Branstad’s place. Branstad told reporters he “really hasn’t talked” with Reynolds about that.
“We’ve worked together as a team since day one,” Branstad said. “…She’s very well prepared and has great leadership ability.”
Branstad cited the work Reynolds has done in promoting science, technology, engineering and math courses for elementary and high school students. Branstad said she’s been involved in all the decision-making since he returned to office in 2011 and that includes interviewing candidates to lead state agencies and potential judges. Reynolds has also led several solo trade missions, most recently in South America.
(This post was updated at 11:30 a.m. with additional information.)