ANKENY — Gov. Terry Branstad said Friday he is sticking by his “old friend” Chinese President Xi Jinping, even as a growing chorus of GOP presidential candidates and conservatives call for President Barack Obama to cancel an upcoming state dinner for the Communist leader.
Branstad, whose relationship with Xi dates back to 1985, said he is taking a long-term view of Iowa’s relationship with a key trading partner. while Republicans like Donald Trump, Scott Walker and Marco Rubio are taking a short-term foreign policy look as presidential contenders.
Walker, Rubio and GOP presidential hopeful Carly Fiorina issued separate calls this week for President Obama to cancel a planned state visit for Xi to the White House next months given issues of cyber security, stock market and currency turmoil, human rights violations and South China Sea military buildup that have cropped up under Xi’s watch.
However, Branstad — who traveled with Walker to China for a 2013 trade mission — brushed aside those criticisms and said he has made a “long-shot” invitation and would welcome a return visit to Iowa by the Chinese president during his upcoming American visit as Iowa works to build on a record $15.1 billion export year. That puts him at odds with some members of his own political party.
“I respect their different viewpoints. I understand that right now we’re going through some challenges and a rocky relationship and China itself is facing some big internal problems,” Branstad told reporters. But he added that Xi is “a longtime friend and I don’t think you just abandon a friend just because there are some differences of opinion. I would rather try to work those things out.”
Xi’s connection to Iowa dates back to 1985, when he was a Hebei provincial official and director of the Shijiazhuang prefecture feed association and visited Iowa as part of a sister state/province program. He stayed with a family in Muscatine and met Branstad at his formal Statehouse office as part of a visiting delegation. Xi returned to Iowa as Chinese vice president in 2012 to renew his friendships with Branstad and other Iowans.
“He calls us old friends, not just me but a lot of people in the state of Iowa. That’s an important trading partner, so we want to keep that relationship,” Branstad said.
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“I understand there are some big issues between our two countries,” the Iowa governor added. “I know that Walker is running for president. I’m the governor of Iowa. My interest is jobs in Iowa and trade and things that help the state of Iowa. I think foreign policy obviously is an issue that is dealt with by the president and people at the national level.”
Branstad said he has tried to steer clear of foreign-policy issues that are not within his gubernatorial purview and instead has worked to nurture a “healthy relationship of friendship and cooperation” with China that has been beneficial to both partners “through good times and bad.”