Max Baucus a safe pair of hands as US ambassador to China

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 13 February, 2014, 3:54am
UPDATED : Thursday, 13 February, 2014, 3:54am

A unanimous show of support in the US Senate for an Obama nominee for a high-profile position is rare enough in the rancorous politics of today's Washington. That the nominee, Senator Max Baucus, is to be America's new man in Beijing makes it more interesting. A veteran lawmaker who is used to being the one to vet administration appointments, Baucus understood the need to say what his colleagues wanted to hear - hence his pledge to adopt a straight-talking approach to advance US maritime and military interests in Asia. But he is expected to tone down the rhetoric when he takes over soon from Chinese-American predecessor Gary Locke.

Far from raising concerns, Baucus' appointment has been welcomed by Beijing as positive for relations. It has also given rise to some good-natured humour about the risk to a 72-year-old running enthusiast from Beijing's pollution. Speaking to reporters, Baucus passed his first test of diplomacy, saying he might bypass the full Beijing Marathon and enter the half marathon, without linking that to the city's notorious smog.

Baucus said he expected to be kept busy by the maritime and territorial disputes between Beijing and its neighbours in the East and South China seas. But his appointment sustains the underlying emphasis by President Barack Obama's administration on trade and economic relations with China. Locke is a former secretary for commerce in the Obama administration. Baucus, a six-term senator who has long been his party's leading voice on trade policy, was active in America's support for Chinese membership of the World Trade Organisation, and has cemented ties with China through frequent visits. So he has the credentials to "work with China to try to help develop confidence and trust" in a bilateral relationship that would "shape global affairs for generations".

And if he needs to escape Beijing's pollution, he could well heed Locke's advice and see the real China, by visiting every corner of the mainland, especially small villages in remote areas, to really understand what is happening in the country.