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Paris fallout continues as top U.S. official in China resigns

Acting ambassador reportedly said he could not support Trump’s climate policy as a “parent, patriot, and a Christian.”

Chinese workers collect reinforcing steel from a demolition site in Beijing. Looming behind them in the smog is one of many construction sites in the heart of Beijing’s shopping district. CREDIT: AP Photo/Greg Baker
Chinese workers collect reinforcing steel from a demolition site in Beijing. Looming behind them in the smog is one of many construction sites in the heart of Beijing’s shopping district. CREDIT: AP Photo/Greg Baker

The fallout from President Donald Trump’s move to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris climate agreement continues this week, now extending to members of his own administration. Acting U.S. Ambassador to China David Rank reportedly resigned his position on Monday in opposition to Trump’s decision on Paris.

“He has retired from the foreign service,” Anna Richey-Allen, a spokeswoman for the department’s East Asia bureau, told Reuters. “Mr. Rank has made a personal decision. We appreciate his years of dedicated service to the State Department.”

While the Paris accord was not mentioned by the State Department, sources told several news outlets that Rank’s resignation was sparked by disagreement with Trump over the move. John Pomfret, editor at large at SupChina, tweeted that Rank had called a town hall meeting at the U.S. embassy in Beijing, where he cited U.S. withdrawal from the agreement as the catalyst for his departure.

NBC News later confirmed Pomfret’s account, noting that Rank reportedly told embassy staffers that as a “parent, patriot and a Christian” he could not support Trump’s climate policy in good conscience.

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Trump announced last Thursday that he was withdrawing the United States from the agreement, which virtually every country in the world has signed onto. With the aim of lowering global emissions in an attempt to stave off the worst impacts of climate change, the agreement was hailed as a landmark deal at the time of its signing in December 2015. But Trump has slammed the agreement as a “bad deal” for the United States. “We’re getting out,” he said on Thursday, going on to blast other nations, including China, which he accused of benefiting from the deal at the expense of the United States.

“This agreement is less about the climate and more about other countries gaining a financial advantage over the United States,” Trump said.

Leaders around the world and across the United States have rejected Trump’s decision, vowing to uphold their commitments. China, the world’s top carbon emitter, reaffirmed its commitment to fighting climate change following Trump’s announcement, uniting with the European Union (and, on Tuesday, the state of California.) But diplomats are tasked with bringing U.S. policy to international leaders — something Rank clearly felt unwilling to do in China.

Former Ambassador Dan Feldman decried the loss of Rank, noting that the State Department is “losing incredibly gifted officers at a moment when the U.S. needed them more than any other time in recent history.”

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“I couldn’t tell you what his politics were until now,” Feldman told the Washington Post. “I don’t remember having a political conversation with him in which he espoused issues or concern about anything other than serving the president, and the secretary of state, whomever they may be, and the interests of the American people.”

Rank’s resignation adds yet another layer of uncertainty to U.S.-China relations, as well as U.S. diplomacy more generally. His replacement, former Iowa Gov. Terry Brandstad (R), was confirmed as ambassador to China in May, but he has yet to assume the position. Meanwhile, most of the State Department’s senior posts are currently vacant or filled by acting officials, a fact the Trump administration has sought to downplay, if not to counter.

Meanwhile, Trump’s proposed budget would see the department’s funding cut by nearly a third, with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson also reportedly mulling plans to cut his staff by 9 to 10 percent — or 2,300 to 2,500 workers. The staffing shortage means U.S. foreign policy continues to be an afterthought for the Trump administration, neglect that has noticeably hindered policy-making.

Rank isn’t the only U.S. diplomat to publicly split with the president in recent days. Lewis Lukens, acting U.S. ambassador to the United Kingdom, issued a statement in support of London Mayor Sadiq Khan following attacks from Trump’s Twitter account. Tweeting from the U.S. embassy in London’s account, Lukens offered praise for Khan’s handling of an extremist attack in London over the weekend.

“I commend the strong leadership of the @MayorofLondon as he leads the city forward after this heinous attack,” Lukens wrote.