President Trump believed Chinese assurances on coronavirus spread before the outbreak reached the U.S., the outgoing U.S. ambassador to China told CNN on Friday.
Ambassador Terry Branstad made the comments after stepping down to return to the U.S. Branstad served as Iowa governor from 1983-1999 and again from 2011-2017, and is the longest-serving governor in U.S. history.
The U.S.-China relationship has soured during Trump’s term amid a trade war and the coronavirus pandemic. Branstad has blamed China for not containing the initial outbreak in Wuhan, and for lying to world nations about the spread of the illness.
“I think President Trump believed the Chinese when they said what they said about the virus. And then he, and the rest of the world, found out that what they said was not true,” Branstad said. “Misinformation and coverups occurred, and it’s really, I think, the communist system of China, and their unwillingness to admit wrongdoing, that caused this whole thing to happen.”
Trump publicly praised Chinese premier Xi Jinping multiple times at the onset of the outbreak.
“China has been working very hard to contain the Coronavirus. The United States greatly appreciates their efforts and transparency,” Trump wrote on Twitter on January 24. “It will all work out well. In particular, on behalf of the American People, I want to thank President Xi!”
As the virus progressed, the president changed his stance and began lashing out at Xi and the CPP over their initial lack of transparency.
There have been hints that Branstad is returning to the U.S. to campaign for Trump’s reelection. Branstad’s son Eric is a senior adviser to Trump Victory 2020, a joint fundraising operation by the Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee. Additionally, Eric Branstad retweeted a recording of Trump last week in which the president was heard saying the ambassador is “coming home from China because he wants to campaign.”
“He still plays well in the Midwest. He has high name ID and is probably the best person to talk about the China influence,” a source with knowledge of the Trump campaign told CNN.
Apart from the pandemic, Branstad’s home state of Iowa and other parts of the Midwest have been affected by the Trump administration’s agricultural trade negotiations with China, which have led to a spike in the purchase of U.S. soybean crops over the past several months. Iowa produces about 14 percent of the nation’s soybeans, and high demand from China has driven soybean prices to their highest level since 2018, according to the Wall Street Journal.
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