Former Iowa Governor and outgoing US ambassador to China Terry Branstad had some harsh words for his one-time friend, Chinese President Xi Jinping.

During an interview with CNN, Brandstad accused Xi and China of mishandling the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan which sparked a global pandemic: “What could have been contained in Wuhan ended up becoming a worldwide pandemic,” Branstad said.

This is one of the harshest rebukes Branstad has ever delivered against China and President Xi, whom Branstad has known since the mid-1980s, when both men were relatively low-ranking government officials.

This isn’t the first time Branstad has had to push back against Beijing; in the last few months alone, Branstad has denounced Beijing’s decision to expel American journalists, as well as the forced passage of the Hong Kong ‘national security’ law, and the closure of an American consulate in Chengdu (retaliation for the closure of a Chinese consulate in Texas that was reportedly a “nest of spies”).

This accusation is extremely harsh, and echoes President Trump’s aggressive rhetoric about holding China responsible for the pandemic. President Xi, meanwhile, has pledged to deliver aid – in the form of vaccines, and financial assistance – to poorer countries struggling with the virus.

Speaking to CNN in Beijing on Friday, Terry Branstad, a former longtime Iowa governor, agreed with President Donald Trump that China was to blame for the pandemic, adding that the “Chinese system was such that they covered it up and even penalized the doctors who pointed it out at the beginning.”

Echoing criticisms of the Chinese Communist Party made by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other White House officials, Branstad also blamed China’s system for leading to a spike in tensions and a degrading of one of Washington’s most consequential bilateral relationships.

Branstad’s comments come just days after a “rogue” Chinese scientist accused Beijing of silencing doctors speaking out about the virus, which she says was ‘man-made’ inside a lab in Wuhan. Her comments were immediately censored by Facebook. The ambassador’s decision to resign took the world by surprise, though he pointed out that he had served in the role longer than the prior three ambassadors.

His departure comes just days after Beijing threatened to impose unspecified restrictions against senior American diplomats after President Trump signed an EO targeting CCP officials and Chinese businessmen allegedly involved with human rights abuses in Xinjiang.

Asked by CNN if he would campaign for Trump, Branstad said he would, if asked.

He told CNN that he was keen to get back home, pointing out that he had been in the role “longer than the previous three ambassadors.”

Asked whether he will campaign on behalf of Trump, who may be relying on Branstad to help swing key Midwestern states, the ambassador said that “if the President asks me to appear at some of his events, I will, as I did in 2016.”

Branstad was one of the first ambassadors appointed by Trump. His decades-old relationship with Xi was cited as a critical to the appointment, reflecting President Trump’s push to build a “personal” relationship with the Chinese president.

However, the administration’s unprecedented and aggressive approach has driven the bilateral relationship between the world’s two largest economies into a new ‘Cold War’. Branstad is set to leave the office by the end of next month, leaving the US without a top diplomat in China during the 2020 presidential vote.

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