US President Barack Obama will tap outgoing Senator Max Baucus to be the next US ambassador to China, a Senate aide said on Wednesday.
As chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Baucus helped craft Obama’s landmark healthcare law and his lengthy experience on the committee makes him well versed in trade issues, an all-important portfolio for dealing with the US’ second-largest trading partner.
The Montana Democrat’s staff did not respond to a request to confirm the move, but a congressional source said fellow Senator Orrin Hatch told reporters that he was aware of the White House plan.
Hatch is the ranking Republican on the Finance Committee and works closely with Baucus on a wide range of issues.
The White House declined to comment on the appointment and it remained unclear when the nomination would be announced.
Baucus, like all ambassadorial nominees, would need to be confirmed by the US Senate.
The 72-year-old was first elected to the Senate in 1978. He announced in April that he would not seek re-election next year.
Baucus would replace Ambassador Gary Locke, a former secretary of commerce in the Obama administration, who has served in the sensitive Beijing post since 2011.
The Washington Post reported that Baucus will be succeeded by Montana’s Lieutenant Governor John Walsh, also a Democrat, and that Walsh will run in November next year for a full, six-year US Senate term.
Asked about Baucus’ probable appointment, Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affaits spokeswoman Hua Chunying (華春瑩) told reporters at a regular briefing: “At present China-US relations have maintained steady growth.”
“The two sides are working together to establish a new model of major-country relations between the two countries,” she said. “No matter who assumes the position of US ambassador to China, we all hope that he or she can play a positive role in promoting China-US exchanges, mutual trust and cooperation.”