Obama 'trump card' to be China ambassador

Updated: 2011-03-09 06:58

By Wu Jiao and Cheng Guangjin (China Daily)

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Obama 'trump card' to be China ambassador
US Commerce Secretary Gary Locke speaks during an event in Tianjin in this May 22, 2010 file photo. US President Barack Obama will nominate Locke as next ambassador to China, two US officials said on Monday. [Photo/Agencies] 

BEIJING - He is the "trump card" in US President Barack Obama's ambitious plan to double exports by 2015; and Gary Locke has a niche in history as the first Chinese-American to serve as a US commerce secretary and state governor.

The combined background and business expertise seem to make Locke, whom Obama reportedly nominated to be the US ambassador to China, the perfect candidate.

Observers said the nomination, widely reported by the US media on Monday, underscores Washington's focus on ties with China, as it's the first time that a Cabinet member has been "demoted" to be ambassador to the country.

Many believe that Locke's commercial expertise will soothe China-US trade ties and help realize Obama's ambitious plan to double exports by 2015, a policy that is vital for his re-election hopes in 2012.

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Locke, 61, was born in Seattle, the son of immigrants from Hong Kong, and traces his ancestry to southern Guangdong province.

Locke served two terms as governor of Washington, from 1996 to 2005 and visited China during that period on several occasions. Washington is often referred to as the nation's most trade-dependent state and during his two terms in office, it doubled its exports to China to more than $5 billion annually.

After leaving office, Locke helped run the China practice at Seattle law firm, Davis Wright Tremaine. He also helped organize a visit to the state in 2006 by President Hu Jintao. He is one of the two Chinese-Americans in the Cabinet, along with Steven Chu, the energy secretary.

"I can't think of a more qualified person to serve as ambassador to China than Gary Locke," the Seattle Times quoted Democratic Washington Governor Chris Gregoire as saying.

"Our relationship with China is more important than ever, and Gary has the history, experience and leadership to maintain strong and friendly ties with one of our most important trading partners."

And according to Norm Page, an attorney in Shanghai who worked closely with Locke when the two co-chaired the Seattle law firm's China practice about six years ago, Locke "respects China and is very respected by the top leadership in China.

"Because of that solid foundation and constructive starting point, I think the lines of communication will be good," he was quoted as saying by the Seattle Times.

If approved by the Senate, Locke will replace Jon Huntsman, who steps down on April 30 and is considering running for president in the 2012 election.

An official announcement on Locke is expected imminently, the AP reported.

Chinese experts said Locke's appointment does not herald any major policy changes.

Zhou Shijian, a senior fellow at the Center for US-China Relations at Tsinghua University, said the nomination "fully shows Obama's determination" to double exports in five years - a policy in which Locke has been a key cheerleader.

China is vital for Obama's policy to succeed, Zhou said, noting that Locke has experience in China trade.

Obama views boosting US exports as a key foundation for growth and job creation as the economy continues its slow recovery.

The appointment will be good news for China as Locke understands the trade relationship, according to Zhou.

In an interview with the AP on Monday, hours before word of his nomination began to spread, Locke touted the trade relationship he has helped build between the US and China. He said US exports to China had increased 34 percent last year.

Locke led a group of nearly two-dozen corporate executives in 2010 to explore opportunities in China's fast-growing clean energy sector. He warned that the US risks being left behind as China plows billions of dollars into solar, wind and other "green" technologies.

Sun Zhe, the director of the Center for US-China Relations at Tsinghua University, said that thanks to his political experience "an American ambassador's duties toward human rights and Taiwan will not be a difficult transition for Locke to make".

But Tao Wendao, foreign policy expert with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said: "We need not overemphasize Locke's Chinese origins.

"He can't even speak Mandarin Chinese."

AP and Reuters contributed to this story.

China Daily


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