Gary Locke — The next U.S. Ambassador to China?

Image by Stacy Nguyen/NWAW

By Rebecca W. Lee and Stacy Nguyen
Northwest Asian Weekly

On March 7, reports surfaced that President Barack Obama was planning to nominate U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke as the U.S. Ambassador to China. The formal announcement of the nomination was made on March 9.

“I can think of nobody who is more qualified than Gary Locke,” said Obama. “More than 100 years ago, Gary’s grandfather left China on a steamship bound for America, where he worked as a domestic servant in Washington State. A century later, his grandson will return to China as America’s top diplomat.”

Locke was nominated by Obama for his current position as the U.S. Commerce Secretary in February 2009 and has played an important role in U.S. and China relations for the Obama administration.

Once confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Locke will be the first Chinese American to be U.S. Ambassador to China.

The position for U.S. Ambassador to China is vacant because current Ambassador Jon Huntsman submitted his resignation in January (it will take effect on April 30).

Huntsman, a former Republican governor of Utah, is considering a presidential run against Obama in 2012.

An ambassador’s job

A foreign ambassador acts as a liaison and representative for the president in the country the ambassador is posted in — in Locke’s case, China. His responsibilities will include enhancing economic, political, and social relationships between the United States and China. He will also be responsible for negotiating for the United States, creating possible business opportunities with China, and advising the president on matters relating to China.  China’s economy has surpassed Japan’s and is now the world’s second largest. China is the second-largest U.S. trading partner after Canada. Locke will deal with issues such as trade balance (China’s surplus and the U.S.’s $273 billion deficit), currency dispute, export control, and cleantech and environmental issues.

Locke’s qualifications

According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, during his time as the U.S. Secretary of Commerce, Locke oversaw a department that is charged with expanding the country’s broadband infrastructure, bringing economic development to communities hardest hit by the recession, and putting Americans to work under programs run by the Census, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

In his role as U.S. Commerce Secretary, Locke has been a central figure in Obama’s drive to double U.S. exports in the next five years.

“I’m very pleased that Secretary Locke will become our new ambassador to China,” said Pepsi CEO and chairman Indra Nooyi. “Over these past few years, I’ve traveled overseas with him and have been impressed with both his cooperative, business-friendly approach and his strong commitment to the critically important issue of creating good jobs.”

Prior to his current position as U.S. Commerce Secretary, Locke was a partner in the Seattle office of Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, a national business and litigation law firm with clients in the United States and China. Locke was a foreign direct investment lawyer.

He was co-chair of the firm’s China practice and was an active member in its governmental relations practice.

Locke served two terms as governor of Washington state, the first starting in 1996 and the second starting in 2000. As governor, he broke down trade barriers and led 10 trade missions to Asia, Mexico, and Europe.

While he was governor, the state’s exports to China more than doubled to over $5 billion per year. The state also gained 280,000 jobs.

“The decision [to nominate Locke] is particularly good for Washington state, as China is our state’s single largest trading partner,” stated  Congressman Jim McDermott (D-WA) said in a release. “Washington state alone exported close to $10 billion in goods to China last year alone. … As the former governor of Washington, I am sure that Gary will work to protect and strengthen this relationship.”

“We are proud and excited and wish Gary the very best,” said Larry Chan, president of Gee How Oak Tin Association and the Guangdong Association of Washington state.

Foreign service officers’ salaries vary depending on rank. A person in the senior ranks of the State Department can make between $119,000 and $180,000.

What happens next?

As with any nomination by the president, all candidates have to be confirmed by the Senate.

There are a few steps to go through in order for this to be finalized.

The president submits a nomination in writing to the Senate, which will be read on the floor. The nomination will be examined.

Later, there will be a confirmation hearing, which is generally open to the public. People are allowed to question the nominee to determine his or her ability in the position.

During floor consideration, nominees are subject to unlimited debate. The Senate has three options: confirm, reject, or take no action on the nomination.  Confirmation requires a simple majority vote.

Once the Senate acts on one of the three options, the secretary of the Senate will attest to the resolution of the confirmation or rejection, which will go back to the White House. It will then be recorded and published in the Congressional Records.

Under Obama, the Senate took an average of 60.8 days to confirm nominees, which is longer than under W. Bush (57.9 days), Clinton (48.9 days), and H.W. Bush (51.5 days).

Returning home

“My father never imagined that one of his children could ever serve as the Secretary of Commerce in the United States of America,” said Locke on March 9. “And he was beaming with pride, Mr. President, the day you presided over my swearing-in ceremony.  Sadly, Dad passed away this past January. But I know that if he were still alive, it would be one of his proudest moments to see his son named as the United States ambassador to his ancestral homeland.” ♦

Rebecca W. Lee and Stacy Nguyen can be reached at

One Response to “Gary Locke — The next U.S. Ambassador to China?”

  1. Ponyo says:

    Congratulations to Mr. Locke, he is the obvious shoo-in for this position. It would be a plus if Gary can start learning Mandarin Chinese and enroll his children to learn the language. Most Chinese people in Beijing will agree that Mandarin is an easier language to master than English.


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