In video to China, Branstad sets North Korea as priority

New ambassador also stresses 'expanding people-to-people ties'

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Former Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad is taking an “Iowa nice” approach to introduce himself to China.

In a 1-minute-30-second video introduction posted over the weekend, Branstad told the Chinese people he’s excited to begin his new role in a country he first visited in 1984 and has returned to five times before becoming ambassador.

“I look forward to working with you, the people of China, to build the future of U.S.-China ties,” Branstad said.

He mentioned his 30-plus year relationship with Xi Jinping, who calls him “old friend.”

At the same time, Branstad, who resigned in late May after the U.S. Senate confirmed his nomination by President Donald Trump, the new ambassador called on the Chinese to join the United States in “stopping the North Korea threat.”

Trump has placed high hopes on China and President Xi in exerting greater influence on North Korea, although he said last week Chinese efforts to rein in the reclusive regime’s nuclear and missile programs had failed.

China’s foreign ministry regularly says that Beijing is doing all it can with regard to North Korea by implementing United Nations Security Council sanctions, while also pushing for greater dialogue to reduce tensions.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said he had pressed China to ramp up economic and political pressure on North Korea during his meeting last week with top diplomat Yang Jiechi in Washington.

Trump pledged during his campaign to take a tough stance on Chinese trade practices deemed unfair to the United States, but his rhetoric softened after a friendlier-than-expected meeting with Xi in Florida in April.

Shortly after their meeting, Trump said he had told Xi that China would get a better trade deal if it worked to rein in the North. China is neighboring North Korea’s lone major ally.

Branstad left Friday for China and, according to a post Monday on the Beijing embassy website, will soon arrive” to begin his work as the representative of the president.

In addition to North Korea, his priorities include resolving the bilateral trade imbalance. The United States ran a trade deficit of $347 billion with China last year, the U.S. Treasury said.

The two countries face many of the same challenges — job creation, education, health care and an aging population, and “a strong U.S.-China relationship can contribute to solutions,” Branstad said.

He’s also looking forward to “expanding people-to-people ties” with the Chinese.

To that end, Branstad said he will introduce his wife, Chris, their daughter, Allison Costa, her husband and their children to China. Costa, who taught third grade in Waukee, was offered a similar position in China.

“I look forward to introducing them to the warmth and extraordinary culture of the Chinese people,” the ambassador said.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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