Acting U.S. Ambassador to China Resigns Over Pullout from Climate Pact

David Rank quits rather than notify Beijing of Trump decision on Paris accord

Smoke and steam billow from a Chinese state owned steel plant on June 2, 2017 in Hebei
Smoke and steam billow from a Chinese state owned steel plant on June 2, 2017 in Hebei, China / Getty Images
June 5, 2017

The acting U.S. ambassador to China resigned on Monday to protest President Trump's decision to withdraw from the Paris climate change accord.

David Rank, a senior Foreign Service officer who was deputy chief of mission at the Beijing embassy, told staff members he quit rather than issue a formal U.S. diplomatic note to the Chinese government on the withdrawal, according to State Department officials.

"Mr. Rank made a personal decision. We appreciate his years of dedicated service to the State Department," said one official.

The resignation highlights the level of politicization that has taken place in key U.S. government agencies during the Obama administration.

Career foreign service officers are trained to carry out American foreign policy when directed from senior officials at the State Department.

The U.S. Embassy in China has long held a reputation as an outpost staffed by American officials who have sought to play down or ignore problematic Chinese behavior, such as arms proliferation to states of concern such as North Korea. Embassy officials also have been blamed for conciliatory policies toward China, such as not taking action for such Chinese actions as Chinese military encroachment in the South China Sea and East China Sea and not pushing back against dangerous military intercepts of American surveillance aircraft over those waters.

Such policies have been dubbed "clientitis" by critics who say the diplomats appear more interested in getting along with a foreign power than advancing American policies and interests.

Trump announced last week that the United States would no longer observe the Paris climate accord, a non-binding international agreement that has no legal standing. The accord was never submitted to the Senate for advice and consent as required under the Constitution for all foreign treaties.

The agreement, a signature accord of President Barak Obama, was concluded in 2015 as part of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and seeks to reduce claims of increased global warming by limiting greenhouse gas emissions.

Trump said the agreement was unfair to American workers and others and compliance would produce the loss of 2.7 million jobs in the next 10 years. "So we're getting out but we will start to negotiate and we will see if we can make a deal that's fair," he said. "And if we can, that's great. And if we can't that's fine."

Trump in announcing the decision noted that China, which he called "one of the world's leading polluters," would be free to increase potentially damaging emissions for 13 years. "They can do whatever they want for 13 years, [but] not us," he said.

The jettisoning of the climate accord triggered widespread anger and outrage among Democrats and those on the political left. Critics of the decision suggested that as a result of not following the agreement the United States would increase pollution.

Former Vice President Al Gore called the pullout "reckless and indefensible."

"It undermines America's standing in the world and threatens to damage humanity's ability to solve the climate crisis in time," Gore said.

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) called the Paris pact "a raw deal for America."

"Signed by President Obama without Senate ratification, it would have driven up the cost of energy, hitting middle-class and low-income Americans the hardest," Ryan said. "In order to unleash the power of the American economy, our government must encourage production of American energy. I commend President Trump for fulfilling his commitment to the American people and withdrawing from this bad deal."

Rank became deputy chief of mission in China in January 2016 and assumed the role of acting ambassador until the Trump administration's new ambassador, former Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, can move to Beijing. Branstad was confirmed by the Senate late last month.

Among the posts held in the past by Rank during his 27-year career were director of the office of Afghanistan affairs and a senior adviser for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

He served as political counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan from 2011 to 2012.

John Tkacik, a former State Department official, said it is better for Foreign Service officers to resign rather than pretend to implement a given president's foreign policy.
"And for that I applaud Mr. Rank, but he, of all people, should see that the Paris agreement will have literally zero impact on the global climate in the year 2100 without China at least doubling the U.S. commitments both in emissions goals, timetables and offering climate aid to developing country parties," Tkacik said.

Also, the protesting diplomat knows China is seeking to be declared a developing country party under the accord, a posture that will enable Beijing to claim vast amounts of so-called climate development assistance from American taxpayers, as well as from Europe and Japan.

"Not only that, but Mr. Rank should also be sensitive to China’s long tradition of stealing foreign clean energy trade secrets, intellectual property and patents, and reselling them on the world market in competition with the very European, Japanese and U.S. companies that developed them," he said.

An FSO in Europe resigning is understandable but not an American diplomat in China.
"China is the second wealthiest country in the world, after the U.S.," Tkacik said. "It makes no sense for a rational U.S. diplomat to fall on his saber because he is embarrassed to tell the Chinese government that giving them American taxpayers 'aid' money doesn’t pass the smell test in Washington these days."