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Former Gov. Gary Locke to be tapped as China ambassador

In this Oct. 11, 1997 photo, then-Washington state Gov. Gary Locke, right, and his wife, Mona, survey the passing scene on both sides of the Pearl River as they travel on a ferry to the Lockes' hometown of Jilong in southeastern China. It was Locke's first visit to his  ancestral home for the first time. A senior Obama administration official says the prresident plans to nominate Locke to be the next U.S. ambassador to China. A formal announcement is expected Tuesday, March 8, 2011. Locke is the first Chinese-American to serve as commerce secretary. His father and grandfather were born in China. He would succeed Jon Huntsman, whose resignation is effective next month. (AP Photo/Anat Givon)

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama will nominate Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, the son and grandson of Chinese immigrants, to be the next U.S. ambassador to China, a senior administration official said Monday. A formal announcement could come as early as Tuesday.

If confirmed by the Senate, Locke would succeed Jon Huntsman, one of the few Republicans in Obama’s administration. Huntsman recently tendered his resignation, effective next month, and he is eyed as a potential GOP challenger to Obama in the 2012 presidential contest.

Locke is the first Chinese American to serve as commerce secretary. Both his father and grandfather were born in China.

In an interview with The Associated Press that took place before his nomination was reported, Locke touted the economic relationship he has helped to build between the U.S. and China. He said U.S. exports to China had posted a 34 percent increase last year. Obama sees boosting U.S. exports as a way to save and create jobs and has set a goal of doubling the amount of American goods sold to other countries within five years.

Locke said China is becoming more accessible to U.S. companies, though he said that progress has been slow in coming.

“We in government and the business community want more and faster progress,” he told the AP. “There’s still a long way to go.”

Locke said that in areas such as intellectual property rights, the U.S. needs to “keep the Chinese accountable” and “constantly monitor them, and let them know that we’re not just going to accept their assurances.”

The administration official requested anonymity to speak ahead of the formal announcement.

ABC News first reported on Locke’s pending nomination on Monday.