• Xi and Branstad in 2012.

Xi and Branstad in 2012. (Photo : Getty Images)

Gov. Terry Branstad of Iowa, described by Chinese officials as an "old friend" of China and who's also friendly with Chinese President Xi Jinping, has accepted the offer to become the new United States Ambassador to China.

The position was offered to Branstad by President-elect Donald Trump. Political observers see Branstad's appointment as a move by Trump to mend fences with China following last week's flap over Trump speaking to Republic of China (Taiwan) President Tsai Ing-wen.

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Washington insiders say Branstad, 70, has personally known Xi since the 1980s when the two men met in a cultural exchange. Branstad and Xi have stayed in touch over the decades, with Xi visiting Iowa and Branstad being Xi's guest in China.

China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs described Branstad as an "old friend" of China when the Trump news broke.

China is Iowa's third-largest trading partner after Canada and Mexico. Corn is Iowa's biggest export to China, followed by tractors, other agricultural products and aircraft parts.

Trump said Branstad, a strong Trump supporter during the presidential campaign, was a great choice.

"He knows them all," said Trump said three separate times.

China immediately welcomed Brandstad's selection choice, even before Trump's announcement. On Dec. 7, Lu Kang, a spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, described Branstad as "an old friend of the Chinese people," a phrase used to describe politicians trusted by Beijing.

"We would welcome him playing a bigger role in promoting Sino-American relations," said Lu.

As U.S. Ambassador Branstad, will find himself in the middle of a testy relationship made unpredictable by Trump's penchant for shooting from the hip. The Taiwan telephone call episode is a case in point.

During the presidential campaign, Trump repeatedly attacked China, describing Chinese imports to the United States as a form of theft. He also plans to impose a steep tariff on Chinese imports and promised to seek vigorous enforcement of trade rules, such as restrictions on state support for private companies.