WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG, REUTERS) – US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo thanked Ambassador to China Terry Branstad for his service, appearing to confirm an earlier statement by President Donald Trump saying that the US’s top diplomat was leaving Beijing.
In a series of tweets, Mr Pompeo praised Mr Branstad’s contribution to “rebalancing” the US’ relationship with China.
Still, the secretary stopped short of saying explicitly whether Mr Branstad was continuing on the job.
The US Embassy in Beijing didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on Monday (Sept 14).
Mr Trump said Mr Branstad would return to the US while praising the campaign efforts of the ambassador’s son, Mr Eric Branstad.
“Eric’s father’s coming home from China because he wants to campaign,” Mr Trump said, in a phone message over the weekend to supporters of Senator Joni Ernst, an Iowa Republican.
Citing an unnamed source, the CNN news network reported that Branstad was likely to leave Beijing before the Nov 3 US presidential election.
Mr Branstad, a former long-time Iowa governor, was chosen in part because of his familiarity with Chinese President Xi Jinping, who visited the Midwestern US state during a trip abroad in the 1980s.
China praised his appointment, hailing Mr Branstad as an “old friend of the Chinese people”, a moniker reserved for a select few statesman credited with improving Beijing’s ties with the wider world.
Instead, Mr Branstad has presided over the most contentious periods since the two sides established diplomatic relations more than 40 years ago, including tit-for-tat consulate closures and restrictions on diplomats.
Last week, China’s foreign ministry accused Mr Branstad of participating in an attempt to “trap” China by asking state media media to publish an opinion piece “with lies and malicious smears”.
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