US Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke’s (駱家輝) appointment as US ambassador to China on Wednesday may not be entirely good news for Taiwan.
Locke, 61, is primarily interested in increasing US business with Beijing and has very little expertise in what analysts refer to as the “geopolitical dimension of the relationship.”
His major goal, as set by US President Barack Obama,, will be to double US exports to China from 2009 levels in five years.
Washington insiders said that anything that might upset that agenda, such as US arms sales to Taiwan, was not likely to be encouraged by Locke.
If confirmed by the US Senate, Locke will replace US Ambassador Jon Huntsman, who is expected to leave the post on April 30.
Huntsman, a former Mormon missionary in Taiwan, is believed to have a special interest in Taipei and to have given a high priority in Beijing to human rights and democracy.
Earlier this month, Huntsman was seen at a meeting of protesters in Beijing and has not shied away from criticizing the Chinese government.
Huntsman is now expected to run for the US Republican presidential nomination and to challenge Obama for the White House next year.
News of Locke’s appointment was leaked earlier this week. He is not expected to run into any substantial difficulties when he goes before the US Senate for confirmation hearings, although it is likely that he will be questioned about his position on Taiwan.
Several US senators have already indicated they want him to take a harder line with Beijing than he has done as commerce secretary. Particularly amongst Republicans, he is seen as being too close to the Chinese leadership and they suspect he might be too ready to make compromises in return for a better trade deal.
Locke is a descendant of Chinese immigrants and he is the first Chinese-American to serve as US commerce secretary.
At a White House ceremony on Wednesday, Obama said: “Our relationship with China is one of the most critical of the 21st century. As the grandson of a Chinese immigrant who went on to live the American dream, Gary is the right person to continue this cooperation.”
Locke said: “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.”
As a former two-term governor of the state of Washington and as commerce secretary, Locke has urged Beijing to further open its markets to foreign companies, loosen currency controls and to end the piracy of intellectual property.
A “case study” on Locke, published on the Web by a public relations company, concentrates on his strong friendships in China.
“The foundation of Chinese business is the voluntary exchange of favors — understanding the relationship is the key concept to functioning effectively in the Chinese economic market,” the study said.
As Locke traces his ancestry to Guangdong Province, he grew up speaking Cantonese and is not proficient in Mandarin.
The Financial Times reported earlier this week that Locke would be welcomed in China as “a returning son of the nation.”
The newspaper said the Chinese Communist Party had cultivated overseas Chinese, encouraging them to consider themselves as much part of the motherland as their adopted homelands.
Some fear Locke’s appointment could be seen by Beijing as a sign that the Obama administration will focus more on trade and business than political and security issues.