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Senate approves Baucus as ambassador to China

Max Baucus is approved as US ambassador to China. Photo: AP

The U.S. Senate voted unanimously on Thursday to approve President Barack Obama's nomination of Senator Max Baucus, who has helped steer trade policy with China, as ambassador to Beijing.

The Senate voted 96-0, with Baucus voting present, to confirm the 72-year-old Montana Democrat to the high-profile appointment.

Baucus holds one of the most powerful positions in the Senate as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, which oversees tax and trade policy. He took a firm stance against some of China's trade practices but also led successful U.S. efforts in the 1990s to help China's admission to the World Trade Organization and to begin normal trade relations with Beijing.

During Baucus' confirmation hearing last week, senators expressed concerns about China's territorial ambitions and urged him to take a tough line with Beijing. Baucus said he would be "fair, but firm.

Baucus has little direct experience with the security and military issues that are a growing concern in U.S. relations with China.

In an emotional farewell speech after the confirmation vote, Baucus promised to build a stronger relationship with China. "The relationship between the U.S. and China is one of the most important in the world, and we, both China and the United States, need to get it right," he said.

Both Republicans and Democrats made speeches praising Baucus, who has been a senator since December 1978.

"His passion is well-known to all of us, his decades of experience here in Congress. He's an excellent choice that President Obama made to represent America's interests in China," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

Baucus' confirmation comes as China has emerged as a leading global economic and military power, at times causing strains between Beijing and Washington and its allies in the region.
China's economy is second in size only to that of the United States. The U.S. trade deficit with China hit $318 billion last year, far larger than it is with any other country, and the $1.3 trillion in Treasury securities China owns make it the largest foreign holder of U.S. debt.
Ties have also frayed as the U.S. has accused China of cybertheft of American intellectual property and of holding down the value of its currency to give a price advantage to its companies trading overseas.

Baucus, seen as a moderate Democrat, had announced his intention to retire from the Senate at the end of 2014, well before Obama nominated him for the Beijing post last month.

He succeeds Gary Locke, who served as Obama's secretary of commerce before becoming the U.S. envoy in Beijing.

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