Easy Hearing for U.S. Ambassador Nominee
By Jennifer Jett
U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke did not get the grilling many expected at Thursday’s Senate confirmation hearing for his nomination as ambassador to China.
Although members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee raised questions about economic issues, human rights and China’s role as an emerging power, their tone was relatively subdued and they rarely pressed Locke on these issues. The 78-minute hearing was also poorly attended, with at least half the senators on the committee absent.
Locke — whose previous positions include governor of Washington and co-chair of the U.S.-China Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade — said his focus would be on opening Chinese markets. Earlier this month, Locke criticized China for shutting out American companies.
In his testimony, Locke also expressed his concern over China’s human rights situation.
Committee chairman John Kerry condemned the recent crackdown on lawyers and dissidents as a violation of universal rights and Chinese law.
“Effectively integrating our concern for human rights into every facet of our relationship will be one of the ambassador’s most important and most daunting challenges,” Kerry said.
Aside from human rights, senators were especially concerned with intellectual property protection and China’s ability to shoulder more responsibility in areas like nonproliferation. In the past week, three Chinese companies were sanctioned by the U.S. State Department for their trading activities with Iran, while China has denied allegations in a UN report that it served as a transshipment point for illicit trade between North Korea and Iran.
Locke noted that China was instrumental in passing the UN resolutions sanctioning North Korea and Iran, but said China can and must do more.
“I think that the recent provocations by North Korea and the reaction by the south is giving China pause, causing China to realize that it has to step up to defuse the situation,” he said.
Locke, who would be the first Chinese-American ambassador to China (although he does not speak Mandarin), is widely regarded as a strong nominee and is expected to be confirmed. He would replace Jon Huntsman, who left his post in April.