New U.S. Ambassador To Beijing Is An Old Friend Of China's President Christopher Hill, a former U.S. ambassador to Iraq and South Korea, talks about President-elect Donald Trump's choice for ambassador to China, Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad.
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New U.S. Ambassador To Beijing Is An Old Friend Of China's President

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New U.S. Ambassador To Beijing Is An Old Friend Of China's President

New U.S. Ambassador To Beijing Is An Old Friend Of China's President

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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The man named to be U.S. ambassador to China will face quite a challenge. President-elect Trump's choice is Terry Branstad.


He's governor of Iowa and an early Trump supporter. He also comes from a state that does much agricultural business with China. That puts Branstad at the center of a vital relationship that Trump aims to reshape.

INSKEEP: Mr. Trump has talked about reworking trade terms with China. He also said he opposes a trade deal that is intended to tie other Pacific nations to the United States instead of China. We called up Chris Hill, a longtime diplomat of long experience in East Asia.

What do you think about Branstad as a choice for ambassador to China?

CHRIS HILL: Well, I'm pleased. First of all, he obviously understands the importance of this relationship - the fact that it's a relationship that's really too big to fail. He understands it's a relationship that we depend on - and not just the Chinese depending on us. The issue, of course, is that we need to, I think, better establish some patterns of cooperation with that country, especially in the political and security area.

INSKEEP: What do you mean when you say a country that we depend on, as well as China depending on us?

HILL: Well, as a governor of Iowa, he knows full well the fact that the Iowa economy is very much tied to China. And it's not just that we buy things from China. They buy a whole lot of things from us.

INSKEEP: So we're talking here, in some cases, about working-class voters in a state that voted for President-elect Trump whose livelihood depends on selling things to China.

HILL: You got it. I mean, we have a lot of farm material, produce - all kinds of things that are going that way. And I think it's kind of impossible to imagine the Iowa economy without understanding the China market. I mean, there are 1.4 billion people there. And they buy things.

INSKEEP: But you also made reference to patterns of cooperation. I think that was your phrase. This is not the least troubled relationship on the planet.

HILL: This is a very troubled relationship. And I think it's getting more troubled by the fact that China has essentially not played well with their neighbors. We have a whole situation in the South China Sea where there are a lot of countries that are absolutely dependent on maritime trade in the South China Sea.

And along come the Chinese - and kind of exert a sovereign declaration that they kind of own the place. And that doesn't go over well with others. But, I mean, a big issue we have, of course, is that North Korea in the next few years is going to have a nuclear weapon - a deliverable nuclear weapon. And we don't have the kind of level of cooperation we need on that very critical issue.

INSKEEP: Would you explain what you mean by a deliverable nuclear weapon? Of course, we know North Korea has already exploded nuclear weapons. But you're talking about something more.

HILL: Yes. They've exploded nuclear devices. They've put them down on the ground. It appears more recently, however, that they have a kind of weapons design and a miniaturized weapon - and that if they are successful, they could put this weapon on to a missile and essentially threaten neighbors and even threaten us. That is a little different from testing nuclear devices underground in North Korea.

INSKEEP: You are hinting at the complexity here because you're saying the United States needs China's help as a friend against North Korea, also wants to push back against China as a kind of adversary in the South China Sea and wants to trade both ways with China.

HILL: You got it. And I think the real issue is our relationship with that country is always going to be characterized by a mixture of cooperation and competition. So the issue is to try to find the right mixture. To suggest that we need to be confronted with everything they do is not going to allow us to solve some of the critical problems that we have.

INSKEEP: Let me circle back to trade, where we began, because the United States buys a lot from China. And the president-elect has suggested the U.S. buys too much at terms that are not fair. Yet the U.S. is also selling things to China. Is there room to improve the ground rules for that trading relationship to make them more advantageous to the United States?

HILL: There is no question that there is room to improve these ground rules. Intellectual property rights is one of the main issues for many U.S. companies dealing with China.

INSKEEP: Complaints that they're stealing patents, stealing products, stealing movies - any number of things.

HILL: Exactly. For now, they're not playing by the rules. And I think that's where it has led to great frustration in U.S. companies. I do believe it will be solved in the longer run. I remember back in the '80s, where the Japanese didn't follow this. They do now. So in the long run, I am satisfied that China will probably move in the right direction. But the long run, I think, may be too long for most of us.

INSKEEP: Ambassador Chris Hill, thanks very much.

HILL: Thank you.

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