US President Barack Obama will nominate US Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke, the son and grandson of Chinese immigrants, to be the next US ambassador to China, a senior administration official said on Monday. A formal announcement was expected as early as yesterday.
If confirmed by the Senate, Locke would succeed Jon Huntsman, one of the few Republicans in Obama’s administration. Huntsman’s recently tendered resignation is effective at the end of next month, and he is being eyed as a potential Republican challenger to Obama in next year’s presidential contest.
The Obama administration official requested anonymity to speak ahead of the formal announcement.
Locke, 61, is the first Chinese American to serve as commerce secretary. His father and grandfather were born in China.
In an interview on Monday, hours before word of his nomination began to spread, Locke touted the economic relationship he has helped build between the US and China. He said US exports to China had increased 34 percent last year.
Obama sees boosting US exports as a way to save and create jobs as the economy continues its slow walk out of its worst slump in a generation. He has set a goal of doubling the amount of US goods that are sold to other countries within five years — an effort in which Locke has been a key cheerleader.
Locke said China is becoming more accessible to US companies, though he said that progress has been slow in coming.
“We in government and the business community want more and faster progress,” he said. “There’s still a long way to go.”
The US trade deficit with China reached US$273.1 billion last year, the largest imbalance the US has ever recorded with any country.
Locke said that in areas such as intellectual property rights, the US needs to “keep the Chinese accountable” and “constantly monitor them, and let them know that we’re not just going to accept their assurances.”
As the son of a Chinese immigrant, he is held in high esteem in China.
Before joining the administration, Locke worked on China issues for a Seattle-based law firm. He joined the firm after declining to seek a third term as Washington state governor; Locke became the US’ first Chinese-American state chief executive when he was elected governor in 1996.
White House aides have been less than thrilled by Huntsman’s overt interest in exploring a presidential bid next year — and possibly becoming the Republican who tries to deny a second term to Obama, who soon will be his former boss.