The US ambassador to China Terry Branstad is stepping down after three years in the post during an exceptionally tense period in the US-China relationship.
The reason for Mr Branstad’s departure is not immediately clear, and leaves the US without an envoy in China at least through the presidential election in November after new political appointees could be named.
The deputy chief of mission, Robert Forden, will become acting head in the interim.
The US-China relationship continues to hit new lows with Washington and Beijing sparring over coronavirus, human rights, trade, technology, espionage, and the treatment of journalists.
“We are rebalancing the US-China relationship so that it is fair and reciprocal and can fuel positive growth in both countries,” Mr Branstad said in a statement about his departure.
Mr Branstad will leave Beijing in early October, and is expected to return to his home state of Iowa, the US State Department said in a statement on Monday.
Mr Branstad was one of US President Donald Trump’s first ambassadorial appointees shortly after winning the 2016 election.
At the time, Mr Trump indicated that Mr Branstad was chosen for his experience in public policy and long-term relationship with Xi Jinping, the leader of the Chinese Communist Party, who he had known since 1985 through bilateral government exchanges.
Indeed Mr Branstad was welcomed by Beijing as “an old friend of China” upon arrival.