Baucus likely next ambassador to China
Updated: 2013-12-19 11:14
By Chen Weihua in Washington, Zhang Yuwei in New York and Chen Jia in San Francisco (China Daily USA)
Long-time US Senator Max Baucus is expected to be nominated by President Barack Obama to be the next ambassador to China, replacing Gary Locke, who will step down early next year.
The Montana Democrat has served in the US Senator since 1978 and has been the chairman of the powerful Senate Committee on Finance since 2007. He also heads and serves on several other committees such as taxation, agriculture, transportation and infrastructure and deficit reduction.
Baucus, who turned 72 on Dec 11, announced on April 23 this year that he would retire from the Senate at the end of his term in 2015.
The news of Baucus’ upcoming nomination, reported by Politico, came as a surprise to some China watchers, but many applauded it.
Jon Taylor, a professor of political science at the University of St Thomas, said it was an "odd choice" that was "not necessarily logical or good" because Baucus has some China experience and ties, but isn't someone immediately recognized as a China expert.
"Why a US Senator from Montana? An odd choice for such an important, if not the most important, ambassadorial post," Taylor said.
Former US Congressman from Oregon David Wu said Baucus will be a terrific ambassador.
"He will be every bit as knowledgeable about China as just about any of our ambassadors to China," said Wu, who was elected to the US House of Representatives seven times and knew Baucus.
Wu described Baucus as "low-key", "very thoughtful," someone who "does his homework" and "an expert in tax, commercial and business matters".
"I am sure that he will be good not only in people-to-people relations, but that he will also be good in business relations between China and the United States," said Wu.
As someone from Oregon, Wu was especially excited by the fact that three US ambassadors to China in a row are coming from the West, including former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman and former Washington State Governor Gary Locke, who became the US Commerce Secretary before becoming ambassador to China in 2011. Locke was the first Chinese-American to serve as ambassador to China.
Douglas Paal, vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said Baucus would bring to the table years of careful stewardship of the US-China trade relationship, which he worked to preserve through annual votes on MFN, then the transition to PNTR, and finally to WTO membership for China.
"He brings serious Senate accomplishments, access to the President and to key Senators. That is more than most ambassadors have been able to offer. He is a big figure for a big relationship," said Paal.
David Lee, an instructor in political science at San Francisco State University also described Baucus as an "excellent choice".
"His expertise on China and the Pacific Rim is well respected and makes him a great candidate for the job," Lee said.
George Koo, a San Francisco-based international business consultant, said Baucus knows China better than most members of Congress and should be a worthy candidate to be ambassador.
"Locke has done a good job representing American interests and it will be a challenge for Baucus to do as well," Koo said.
According a Washington Post report on Wednesday, Baucus has extensive experience when it comes to China, especially on trade issues.
The third longest-serving US Senator has visited China eight times. He also led the US effort in the 1990s to establish Permanent Normal Trade Relations between the two countries and to bring China into the World Trade Organization.
Baucus has hosted trade delegations from China in both Washington DC and Montana. The Post described him as someone who shares the Obama administration’s views on how to approach delicate US-China relations, such as currency, intellectual property rights, labor, the environment and human rights.
Politico said Baucus’ expected nomination had been rumored in congressional circles in the past month, but it only became clear in recent days that the White House would make the appointment.
The expected nomination, however, still requires confirmation from the US Senate, but sitting US Senators normally don’t face much objections from colleagues.
Last month, Locke, the current US ambassador to China, announced that he would step down early next year, citing personal reasons.
It is believed that Baucus’ exit of the US Senate will fuel a race for the seat in the conservative-leaning northwest state of Montana.
Right now, Lieutenant Governor John Walsh, a Democrat, is running against Representative Steve Daines, a strong Republican candidate.
Baucus has one son, Zeno, from his first marriage to Ann Geracimos. They divorced in 1982. Baucus and his second wife, Wanda Minge, also divorced after 25 years.
Baucus’ office announced in January 2011 that he will marry Melodee Hanes, his former state office director.
Baucus has been instrumental in pushing Obamacare through the US Senate and he once completed a 50-mile ultra-marathon.
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