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 today.
If confirmed by the Senate, the former Washington governor would succeed Jon Huntsman, one of the few Republicans in Obama’s administration. Huntsman’s recently tendered resignation is effective at the end of April, and he is eyed as a potential GOP challenger to Obama in the 2012 presidential contest.
Locke, 61, is the first Chinese-American to serve as commerce secretary.
In an interview with the Associated Press on Monday, hours before word of his nomination began to spread, Locke touted the economic relationship he has helped build between the U.S. and China. He said U.S. exports to China had increased 34 percent last year.
Obama sees boosting U.S. exports as a way to save and create jobs as the economy continues out of its worst slump in a generation. He has set a goal of doubling the amount of American goods 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 U.S. companies, though he said that progress has been slow in coming.
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.”
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’s governor.
White House aides have been less than thrilled by Huntsman’s overt interest in exploring a presidential bid next year.
A fluent Mandarin speaker from his service as a Mormon missionary, Huntsman has earned praise from the administration. But serving a Democratic president could become an issue should he seek the GOP nomination – something Obama recently needled Huntsman about.
“I’m sure that him having worked so well with me will be a great asset in any Republican primary,” the president said when he was asked about Huntsman at the White House in January.