Outgoing US Ambassador to China Terry Branstad slammed Beijing on Friday over its handling of the coronavirus when it first emerged in the country — saying that “what could have been contained in Wuhan ended up becoming a worldwide pandemic,” according to a report.
The former two-term Iowa governor agreed with President Trump that China is to blame for the global outbreak, telling CNN in Beijing that the “Chinese system was such that they covered it up and even penalized the doctors who pointed it out at the beginning.”
China has repeatedly denied botching its handling of the early stages of the pandemic.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declined Monday to provide a reason for the sudden departure of Branstad, who began his diplomatic stint in China in 2017.
His departure comes as relations between Washington and Beijing continue to hit new lows.
Relations between the two countries tanked this year over Chinese concealment of early coronavirus data and the central government’s elimination of political autonomy in Hong Kong.
On Friday, Branstad blamed China’s system for leading to heightened tensions and a falling out between the two governments, as he told CNN that he was looking forward to return to the US next month.
China’s Xi Jinping and Terry Branstad
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Asked whether he will campaign on behalf of Trump, the ambassador said that “if the president asks me to appear at some of his events, I will, as I did in 2016.”
The 73-year-old told Hong Kong’s Phoenix TV that will work on behalf of the president, Sen. Joni Ernst and others, but not in an official role.
“My son is very involved in (Trump’s) campaign, and I will be a volunteer to help him, to help Joni Ernst and other friends for the election in Iowa. But I will strictly be a volunteer,” Branstad said.
Ernst, Iowa’s junior senator, is locked in a tight race, with Democrats hoping to capture her seat on the way to flipping the Senate.
Branstad also said he considered the “phase one” trade deal between China and the US as his biggest achievement during his time in China.
The deal, which was reached in January amid the ongoing tariff war between the sides, represented a truce but did not address the more fundamental US complaints.
Still, Branstad said he believed it was ultimately in the best interests of both countries to follow through with it.
“This was a long and difficult process,” he said. “They worked long and hard to reach an agreement that I think is fair and reciprocal. And it’s going to make a difference for both of our countries.”
With Post wires