February 3, 2017 / 3:21 AM / in 10 months

Trump pick for China ambassador sees 'win-win' boost to trade ties

BEIJING (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump’s pick for ambassador to China, Terry Branstad, said he would help increase trade in a “win-win” for both countries, Chinese state media reported, amid concerns over protectionist talk from the new U.S. administration.

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump shakes hands with Governor of Iowa Terry Branstad (L) at the USA Thank You Tour event at the Iowa Events Center in Des Moines, Iowa, U.S., December 8, 2016. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

Trump has railed against China’s trade practices, blaming them for U.S. job losses, and has threatened to impose punitive tariffs on Chinese imports.

Beijing says it will work with Washington to resolve any trade disputes, but state media has warned of retaliation if Trump takes the first steps toward a trade war.

Branstad, currently the governor of Iowa, said he would help to work out differences and that there was immense potential for more Chinese investment in the United States.

“We want to continue to enhance the relationship and to increase trade between our two countries,” Branstad told China’s official Xinhua news agency in an interview in the United States published late on Thursday.

“I hope ... that I can play a constructive role trying to work out many of these differences in a way that makes it a win-win. It is beneficial to both of our countries, and also benefits the rest of the world,” Xinhua cited Branstad as saying.

“I think we have seen just the tip of the iceberg of the potential (Chinese) investments here,” he said.

Trump’s nomination of Branstad, a longtime Republican governor who has developed relationships with Chinese President Xi Jinping and other Chinese leaders, was well-received, even among some Democrats.

He still faces a confirmation hearing.

Trump has moved to fill his administration with critics of China’s trade policies, including Wilbur Ross for Commerce Secretary, Robert Lighthizer for U.S. Trade Representative, and Peter Navarro, an economist and China hawk who will serve as a White House adviser.

Xi and Trump have yet to speak since Trump took office, though they did talk soon after Trump won the election.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang, asked whether a call was in the offing, would only say the two countries were continuing to remain in “close contact”.

Free trade advocates worry that Trump’s trade team will be too quick to use tariffs to keep imports out, raising costs for manufacturers that rely on imported parts - or even sparking retaliatory trade wars.

Xi made a vigorous defense of globalization at the World Economic Forum last month, and presented China’s economy as a “wide open”, despite complaints from the foreign business community that Beijing has not made good on pledges of economic liberalization.

The official China Daily newspaper said on Friday that China could weather trade frictions better than the United States, as its exports accounted for a larger proportion of global trade, but that Trump’s words and actions “bode ill” for relations.

“China needs to cast aside any illusions it may have had that Trump was just mouthing off to attract votes and instead be prepared for the worst,” the paper said in an editorial.

Commentary from influential Chinese state-run media does not equate with policy, but can be reflective of official thinking.

Trump’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, was greeted by China’s ambassador to the United States, Cui Tiankai, at a Lunar New Year reception at the embassy in Washington on Thursday.

The China Daily said her father had “broken a tradition” of U.S. presidents “sending New Year’s greetings to people of Chinese origin in the United States for their most important festival”.

Reporting by Michael Martina; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Beijing; Editing by Nick Macfie

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