President-elect Donald Trump has tapped Terry Branstad, the pro-life governor of Iowa, to be the United States Ambassador to China, a move that pro-lifers are optimistic about considering that nation continues to restrict religious freedom and force women to get abortions and sterilizations.
According to the Des Moines Register, Trump announced his selection of Branstad at a fundraiser on Wednesday.
"He successfully developed close trade ties with China while serving as chief executive of the Hawkeye State," Trump said. "That experience will serve him well as he represents America's interests and further develops a mutually beneficial relationship with Chinese leadership."
In a statement, Branstad said that he has known China President Xi Jinping "for many years" and he considers him to be "an old friend."
"I look forward to building on our long friendship to cultivate and strengthen the relationship between our two countries and to benefit our economy," Branstad said.
Branstad's appointment has also been warmly received by the Chinese government.
"Gov. Branstad is an old friend of the Chinese people," China's foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said Wednesday during a briefing. "We welcome him to play a great role in promoting the development of China-U.S. relations."
Given Branstad's good relationship with Chinese officials, pro-life leaders and human rights advocates are hopeful that the 70-year-old Branstad will use his position to pressure the Chinese government, which enforces a strict "two-child policy" (recently changed from a "one-child policy") through forced abortions and sterilizations, regular pregnancy screenings, the criminalization of women who are unauthorized to be pregnant and other measures.
"We're optimistic that the new administration and Gov. Brandstad will promote human rights, unlike Hillary Clinton in 2009 when she said economic rights are a priority over human rights," David Christensen, the vice president for government affairs at the social conservative lobbying organization Family Research Council, told The Christian Post in a statement Thursday. "We think this is an important opportunity to make good on the GOP platform's support for the promotion of human rights and calls for an end to subsidizing China's coercive abortion program by sending taxpayer funds to the UNFPA which works with China's population control agenda."
Branstad has long been an ally to pro-life causes. Last year after the Center for Medical Progress released undercover videos purportedly showing Planned Parenthood officials discussing how they skirt around federal and state fetal tissue procurement laws, Branstad called for a review to make sure that the state taxpayers were not giving the nation's largest abortion provider any funds.
Branstad's appointment comes as China is listed by Open Doors USA as the 33rd worst country in the world when it comes to the persecution of Christians. The government is known for arresting Christians and people of other non-state-sanctioned religions. Additionally, authorities in China even initiated a systematic campaign of removing hundreds of crosses from churches in the of city of Wenzhou.
Although the cross removal campaign has seemingly come to an end, authorities still crackdown on non-state-sanctioned religion by disrupting and halting church meetings and other religious gatherings that they consider to be threats to society.
"The choice of an ambassador for any country that is committing human rights violations and religious persecution in particular is always extremely important," Faith McDonnell, director of religious liberty programs at the Washington D.C.-based Institute on Religion & Democracy, told CP in an email.
"I have heard from friends in Iowa many reasons why Gov. Branstad would be a great ambassador to China, and I believe them," she added. "But they have not addressed the issue of their persecuted brothers and sisters. It is my hope and prayer that the Trump Administration, including Gov. Branstad will take very seriously America's history of speaking out for the oppressed and persecuted and will do all in their power to pressure the Chinese into improving their human rights and allow Christians to practice their faith in complete freedom."
McDonnell added that the fact that Branstad is an "old friend" of President Jinping gives him the opportunity to show the Chinese government that Christians and Falun Gong practitioners are a "blessing" to China, not a threat.
"They are among the most ethical of people and good citizens who want what is best for their country," McDonnell added. "It is my hope that Gov. Branstad will be well briefed on all of those that have experienced oppression and suffering at the hands of the PRC government. In the past, we have had some ambassadors who were woefully under-educated on the issue of religious persecution, including one ambassador that had never heard of a Chinese house church, the home to millions of Chinese Christians."