A Senate panel on Tuesday easily approved Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad's nomination to be the U.S. ambassador to China, a move that all but assures full Senate confirmation of President Donald Trump's pick for the key diplomatic post.
Members of the Foreign Relations Committee approved Branstad by voice vote. Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland, the committee's top Democrat, described Branstad as "fully qualified" for the job at a time when the Trump administration is pushing the Chinese to act more aggressively to defuse North Korea's nuclear weapons program.
During his confirmation hearing last week, Branstad pledged to confront Beijing on a range of thorny subjects, including human rights and trade. Branstad told senators he plans to leverage his decades-long relationship with Chinese President Xi Jinping to advance U.S. and international interests. The two met in 1985 when Xi, at the time a provincial official, led an agricultural trade delegation to Iowa.
Branstad said North Korea's push for a weapon of mass destruction is a "threat to all of humankind." He said recent events, which include missile tests by Pyongyang, should prompt China to take the threat more seriously. He also said he expects China to become more engaged because of concerns that North Korean refugees may flood China if the crisis on the Korean Peninsula escalates further.
Branstad, 70, is in his sixth nonconsecutive term as governor. He served from 1983 to 1999 before entering the private sector. He was re-elected in 2010. With more than 22 years heading Iowa government, Branstad is the country's longest serving governor.
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