'We simply have to get ties right,' says new US ambassador Max Baucus

Newly arrived US Ambassador Max Baucus vows to protect American business interests, but seeks Beijing partnership on global stage

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 19 March, 2014, 3:24am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 March, 2014, 4:57am

New US ambassador to China Max Baucus said pushing for fair treatment for American businesses would be one of his top priorities during his tenure.

The former senator from Montana struck a cordial tone when laying down the objectives for his term, referring to the Sino-United States relationship as one of America's most important.

"It will shape global affairs for generations to come," said Baucus, who arrived in Beijing on Monday night. "We simply must get it right."

The two nations had more common interests than differences, and co-operation between them could help drive peace and stability, said the new US envoy in prepared remarks to the press.

The Sino-US relationship will shape global affairs for generations
Max Baucus, US ambassador

Baucus said he would strive to strengthen the economic relationship with China.

Bilateral trade between the two nations reached more than US$500 billion last year, but Washington has complained that its trade deficit with China had reached US$318.4 billion in the same period, raising concerns about barriers for US companies to enter Chinese markets.

Baucus said he would promote economic co-operation "in a way that is mutually beneficial and ensures a level playing field for American businesses and workers to compete fairly with their Chinese counterparts".

The US also wanted China to be a partner in tackling common global challenges, such as climate change, and would urge Beijing to support such values as human rights, he added.

He said he would also promote exchanges among students, tourists and businessmen during his term.

Baucus has travelled to China at least eight times, and met President Xi Jinping during a visit to Beijing in 2010.

Baucus's predecessor, former Washington state governor Gary Locke, impressed China's internet users with his frugal lifestyle and humble manner. Locke, who is of Chinese descent, was photographed at Seattle airport before his departure buying his own coffee at Starbucks and carrying his own luggage. He also flew to Beijing in economy class.

Some Chinese internet users contrasted Locke's behaviour with the extravagant living of Chinese officials, but a commentary by China News Service on the eve of his departure described him as a "banana man with yellow skin and a white heart" - a racially tinged comment considered by many observers on both sides of the Pacific to be an astonishing insult from the state-run media.

Baucus said he had sought the counsel of Locke and the latter's predecessor, Jon Huntsman, and had also been in touch with China's ambassador to Washington, Cui Tiankai .

Locke, in his final press conference in Beijing last month, advised Baucus to travel around the country as much as possible, saying that "Beijing does not represent all of China".

Authorities also gave Locke permission to make rare visits to Tibet and Xinjiang .

Baucus said he hoped "to represent the US in every corner of this big country".

"I hope to get out of my office, and Beijing, as much as I can," he said. "My goal is to visit every province and region in China."

On a lighter note, Baucus said his interest in public service and China was piqued more than 50 years ago when, as a college student, he spent a year hitchhiking around the world.

His travels took him through Africa and Asia, including a stay in Hong Kong.

"That was the beginning of my long relationship with China," he said. "I want to be part of helping manage this relationship in the best possible way."