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Chartered plane travels from US to China; envoy leaving

By MAY ZHOU in Houston | China Daily Global | Updated: 2020-09-16 00:43

US Ambassador to China Terry Branstad. [ZHAO HUANXIN / CHINA DAILY]

The American Chamber of Commerce in China said it chartered a plane and flew 87 passengers from San Francisco to Beijing last weekend, making it the first such flight from the United States to fly directly to China since the pandemic began and China closed its borders to the US in March.

Meanwhile, US Ambassador to China Terry Branstad is resigning from his post and returning to the US, reportedly at President Donald Trump's request to help with his re-election campaign.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced Monday on Twitter that Branstad would be leaving the post after three years but didn't provide a reason for the departure. The US embassy in China released a statement later Monday confirming Branstad's decision to retire, adding that he would leave for Iowa in early October. The statement provided no further details regarding the timing of his decision.

Known as AmCham, the chamber of commerce in China claims 4,000 individual members from 900 American companies operating in the country. It is dedicated to improving the business environment in China, promoting constructive and sustainable US-China economic relations, and helping American companies to succeed in China.

AmCham had worked for months to charter a plane to send executives and their families back to China for business operations, according to the report.

A majority of the US companies in China remained profitable last year despite trade friction between Beijing and Washington, and are committed to staying in the market that is too big to fail, a new survey conducted by AmCham has said.

About 92 percent of the 346 companies polled by AmCham in Shanghai said they will remain in the Chinese market, according to the China Business Report 2020 released last week together with consultancy PwC.

AmCham China first surveyed members to find out where the most members were located and then negotiated with the Beijing government, which approved the charter flight at the end of August.

The plane departed from San Francisco on Saturday and stopped in Tokyo before landing in Beijing on Sunday afternoon. The passengers, who ranged in age from newborn to 81, were either AmCham China members or their extended families. They took a group photo at the boarding gate before taking off.

"We are thrilled to support so many members' journey back to China, so that they can resume their work and lives here," said AmCham China President Alan Beebe. "We are also proud that the Beijing government chose our flight as the first charter to fly directly into the capital."

After completing health checks and passing through customs, the passengers were transported in seven buses with a police escort to a designated hotel in Beijing, where they will spend two weeks in quarantine. The Beijing government has confirmed that all passengers tested negative for the novel coronavirus.

According to CNN, multiple sources said that Branstad was originally planning to remain in Beijing until after the US presidential election on Nov 3, but that Trump urged him to return to the US and help him in his re-election campaign.

Branstad and his family arrived in China in June 2017, and he has traveled to 26 provinces and autonomous regions in China. He noted that he would have visited all of them if COVID-19 hadn't limited his domestic travel.

"Getting to know the Chinese people, meeting them in their homes and hearing their personal stories, has been one of the great privileges of this job," Branstad said in a statement.

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