The US Senate on Monday confirmed Iowa Governor Terry Branstad as the next ambassador to Beijing, providing President Donald Trump with an envoy whose decades-long connection to China could smooth relations between the global powers.
The confirmation, by a bipartisan vote of 82 to 13, comes with the White House beset by scandal, but also at a time when Trump is looking to Beijing, its biggest rival and trading partner, to step up economic pressure on North Korea's irascible regime.
Branstad will be thrust into the heart of one of the most important and sensitive relationships in global diplomacy, one that faces rising tensions in the South China Sea.
The new US administration has yet to fully outline its policy with China, a nation Trump repeatedly attacked from the campaign trail last year.
But Trump's aggressive tone has softened since his inauguration, including doing an about face after months of branding China a currency manipulator.
Branstad will help shepherd the 100-day action plan on economic cooperation that was launched between the two countries in April, when Chinese President Xi Jinping met with Trump at the US leader's Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.
Branstad, who like Trump is 70, has known Chinese President Xi Jinping since the mid-1980s, when the Asian leader visited Iowa as a provincial official.
The two have met numerous times since, both in China and in Branstad's US heartland state, as he sought to promote Iowan agricultural exports.
Trade will be a critical element of the diplomacy. Earlier this month, the economic giants announced an agreement that gives US beef, natural gas and certain financial services access to China's massive market, while Washington in exchange will allow cooked Chinese poultry to enter US markets.
"Iowa's extensive trade relationship with China has given Governor Branstad a front-seat view of the complexities of our country's broader trade and economic relationship with China and will provide him with the foundation to effectively advocate for US interests," Senator Joni Ernst of Iowa said shortly before the Senate vote.
Early this month during his Senate confirmation hearing, Branstad said he would urge his friend Xi to honor a commitment to rein in North Korea, which has sent tensions soaring with a series of missile launches and tests.
Branstad, currently serving a sixth four-year term, is the longest-serving governor in US history.