New US envoy 'well-prepared' for role

Updated: 2014-02-08 00:24

By CHEN WEIHUA in Washington and ZHAO SHENGNAN in Beijing (China Daily)

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Beijing hopes veteran senator will strengthen mutual relations

Max Baucus, the newly approved next US ambassador to China, is expected to be a "good communicator" between the two countries, observers said.

The US Senate voted unanimously on Thursday to confirm the nomination of the 72-year-old Montana Democrat, holder of one of the chamber's most powerful positions as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, which oversees tax and trade policy.

Beijing welcomed Baucus' confirmation on Friday.

The Chinese side "hopes and believes" that Baucus will make efforts to strengthen mutual understanding and cooperation between both sides, as well as to promote the establishment of "a new type of major country relationship," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said.

"I never dreamed (I would see) a time that takes me back to China to represent the United States, 50 years later," Baucus said, referring to a one-year hitchhiking trip he took around the world in the early 1960s as a Stanford University student.

Despite less obvious links with China than his predecessor, Gary Locke, who was the first Chinese-American ambassador to Beijing, Baucus reportedly has visited China eight times and has hosted many trade delegations from the world's second-largest economy.

Baucus played a role in helping China to join the World Trade Organization in 2001 but also has complained about Chinese currency policy and intellectual property laws.

Kenneth Lieberthal, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a Washington-based think tank, said Baucus' priorities in Beijing should be to effectively communicate decisions made by the White House, State Department and other related agencies and their objectives, while seeking to understand and accurately report relevant views and concerns in China.

Baucus' background "suggests that he is particularly well-prepared on economic and trade and related financial issues" and "also suggests that he will have to do his homework to get up to speed on both China's own system and politics and on geopolitical issues," Lieberthal said.

Baucus' confirmation came as the US and China work on building "a new type of major country relationship", as pledged by President Xi Jinping and US counterpart Barack Obama in June.

But a slew of US media have pointed out that Baucus has scant direct expertise in the security and military issues that are a growing concern in US-China relations.

During an earlier hearing, Baucus described the US-China relationship as one of the most important bilateral relationships in the world, and expressed hope for "a stronger, more equitable economic relationship" with China.

In touching upon regional territorial issues, Baucus said he would be "fair, but firm".

The two countries often are suspicious of each other's strategic intentions.

The simmering tension between China and Japan —Washington's top ally in Asia — over the Diaoyu Islands has further complicated Sino-US relations.

Tao Wenzhao, a senior research fellow of US studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said the economic front, which is conducive to US growth, still tops the Obama administration's agenda in bilateral relations.

"Washington is unlikely to sacrifice such important ties for Japan or its other allies in Asia, so as the top US diplomatic envoy to Beijing, Baucus has a lot of communication work to do between China and the US to smother regional security threats," Tao said.

Lieberthal also portrayed Baucus as well-positioned to interpret to the Chinese public and his counterparts the concerns, politics and potential impact of actions taken by members of the US Congress and the executive branch.

"The executive branch clearly makes the policy. But Congress has a role to play, especially on issues like the budget, economy, trade and so forth," he said, describing Baucus as articulate and intelligent.