Washington (AFP) March 9, 2011
US President Barack Obama on Wednesday named Gary Locke to be the first Chinese American ambassador to Beijing, hoping the exemplar of the American dream can manage the two powers' often rocky ties.
Senators indicated they are likely to confirm Locke to replace Ambassador Jon Huntsman, who is leaving Beijing as he flirts with seeking the Republican nomination to challenge Obama for the presidency next year.
Locke, 61, grew up in Seattle's housing projects and worked his way through Yale University, eventually becoming a prosecutor, the governor of Washington state and, since Obama took charge in 2009, the commerce secretary.
Flanked by Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Locke said his father, who recently died, would have been "beaming with pride" at his appointment as ambassador.
"I'm going back to the birthplace of my grandfather, my father, my mom and her side of the family. And I'll be doing so as a devoted and passionate advocate for America, the country where I was born and raised," Locke said.
The nomination marks a milestone for Asian Americans, who have voiced concern throughout US history at being seen as perpetual foreigners. During World War II, US authorities detained more than 100,000 Japanese Americans, questioning the loyalty even of those born and raised in the United States.
Locke's grandfather immigrated to Washington state where he served as a house-boy for a family in return for English lessons. He later returned to China where Locke's father was born. Locke, who helped at his father's grocery store in Seattle, did not speak English until he entered school.
Locke would take over at a time of complexity in US-China relations, which have been fraught over a range of disputes including on Beijing's export-driven economic policies, growing military spending and human rights record.
In both public and private life, Locke has dealt closely with China. His efforts as Washington's governor helped more than double the Pacific Northwest state's exports to China to top $5 billion per year.
"I can think of nobody who is more qualified than Gary Locke," Obama said.
"Continued cooperation between our countries will be good for America. It will be good for China. And it will be good for the world," Obama said.
"As the grandson of a Chinese immigrant who went on to live the American dream, Gary is the right person to continue this cooperation," Obama said.
But as ambassador, Locke would be in charge not only of commerce but of more sensitive topics such as human rights, with China's communist leaders facing criticism over their measures to prevent Middle East-style democracy protests.
Chinese web users last month posted photos and a video of Huntsman near an area in downtown Beijing where activists called for demonstrations, but the US embassy said the ambassador's presence was pure coincidence.
Obama and Locke did not mention human rights in their appearance. They focused on business, with Obama saying that US companies would "be able to count on (Locke) to represent their interests in front of China's top leaders."
"As one of the world's fastest-growing economies, our relationship with China is one of the most critical of the 21st century," Obama said.
"Over the last two years we worked hard to build a relationship that serves our national interest -- addressing global security issues and expanding opportunities for American companies and American workers," Obama said.
The nomination heads to the Senate. Many lawmakers are sharply critical of China but Locke is personally popular, with the Senate unanimously approving him as commerce secretary in 2009.
Republican Senator Mark Kirk told AFP on Tuesday that Locke should be "swiftly confirmed" but that lawmakers would use the occasion to scrutinize US ties to China.
"Senators will always take their pound of flesh out of any nominee on China policy. The Beijing-Washington relationship is the most important diplomatic relationship on the planet," Kirk said.
Locke's nomination won wide praise from business leaders. Dave Cote, the chairman of conglomerate Honeywell, hailed the "inspired choice" and said Locke was "well respected in China and here in the United States."
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US Senators mostly warm to new China pick
Washington (AFP) March 8, 2011
US Senators mostly welcomed word Tuesday that President Barack Obama would pick Commerce Secretary Gary Locke as his new ambassador to Beijing, but noted US ties to China would face fresh scrutiny. "Senators will always take their pound of flesh out of any nominee on China policy. The Beijing-Washington relationship is the most important diplomatic relationship on the planet," said Republica ... read more
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