Washington’s distinction as the most trade-dependent state in the nation has been repeated so often it has the ring of a cliché. But it’s a fact that makes Gary Locke’s nomination to be U.S. ambassador to China more than a point of parochial pride.
As commerce secretary in the Obama administration – and before that as governor of Washington – Locke has built a favorable reputation over many visits to the surging international trade market where he will soon take up an official diplomatic role.
He hasn’t done it by being a patsy.
Speaking at a U.S.-China trade event in New York last month, Locke bluntly pinpointed one of the difficulties surrounding that important relationship: Chinese government officials often promise one thing and do another.
“Even when Chinese leaders make strong statements of principle to take action on an issue of concern, those principles don’t always turn into binding law,” Locke said. “And even if those laws are written, actual implementation at the local or provincial level is often left wanting.”
Whether it’s piracy of intellectual property, currency valuation, product safety, secret decision-making, human rights issues or barriers that keep foreign companies out of the Chinese market, the challenge of getting the government there to make meaningful reforms calls for someone with both credibility and backbone.
Locke’s cultural fitness for the job is well documented. His father was born in China. Chinese was his first language. He was the nation’s first Chinese-American governor. And he has been warmly welcomed on his numerous trade missions as a representative of this state or the nation.
He is called upon now to be, quoting his own words, “a devoted and passionate advocate for America,” but it can only help Washington if the person in that role has what Viktoriya Vashko, director of the Spokane International Trade Alliance, calls a “soft spot” for our region.
Yes, Spokane’s economy stands to gain by tapping into the commerce opportunities throughout the Pacific Rim, and especially in China. While it’s hard to quantify that activity precisely, Vashko says it’s growing in quality and consistency.
Solidifying the potential will depend on how much progress Locke and the United States can make getting China to deal with the hefty list of problem areas that complicate matters now. Locke’s positive personal relationship with the Chinese and his no-nonsense candor are a promising combination.