Max Baucus, nominated by US President Barack Obama as the country’s ambassador to China, vowed to strengthen ties during his testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Jan 28.
Baucus, a longtime Democrat senator from Montana, told his colleagues that the US-China relationship is one of the most important in the world.
“It will shape global affairs for generations to come. We must get it right,” said the 72-year-old.
Baucus, who was chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee, emphasized the importance of trade relations with Beijing.
“From my first official visit to China in 1993 to my most recent trip in 2010, I have worked through economic diplomacy to strengthen ties between the United States and China,” he said. “I look forward to continuing that work to build a stronger, more equitable economic relationship between our countries.”
Baucus said that if he is confirmed by the Senate, he will strive to accomplish two critical overarching goals toward a safer, more prosperous world.
First, he said he would develop economic relations with China in a way that benefits US business and workers.
Second, he would partner with China as it emerges as a global power, encouraging it to act responsibly in resolving international disputes, to respect human rights and to protect the environment.
He recalled his visit to China in 2010 when he met then-vice-president Xi Jinping, who is now president. He said leaders from both sides recognize that the two countries have much more to gain from cooperation than from conflict.
“I believe that, as well, and I see many areas of our relationship where cooperation is not only possible but vital,” he said.
Baucus said engagement with China will allow the two nations to identify shared goals. “It will allow us to achieve concrete results,” he said.
US-China cooperation is also critical on geopolitical issues, Baucus said, including the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s nuclear program, territorial disputes in the South and East China seas, Taiwan, cybersecurity, climate change and human rights.
“If confirmed, I will strive to strengthen the US-China relationship for the benefit of our two countries and the world,” he said.
Cheng Li, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute, said Baucus is a very good choice for ambassador. He is a political heavyweight who has a good relationship with both President Obama and Vice-President Joe Biden, both of whom served in the Senate.
“This is very important for an ambassador,” Li said.
While Baucus’ comment that he is “no real expert on China” caught the attention of the news media and some in the US Senate, Li, who had a good conversation with him not long ago, said Baucus is good at learning and listening.
“This is more precious than what he knew before, even if he was an expert on China,” Li said.
Regional security, financial reform, and cooperation on environmental protection, public health and food safety will be the key areas for Baucus once arriving in Beijing, he said, noting that Baucus’ expertise in finance will enable him to offer a helping hand in China’s economic and financial reform in the future.
Douglas Paal, vice-president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, called Baucus “Senator Trade”. Baucus’ staff members have populated the US Trade Representative and WTO offices in Geneva.
“So I assume his preference will be to promote economic relations, the Bilateral Investment Treaty and other trade-related arrangements,” Paal said.
“But the dominant feature of US-China relations is increasingly strategic competition and how to manage it, and that will impinge on his priorities,” he said.
Orville Schell, director of the Center on US-China Relations, said while the US and China have managed to build up a solid foundation of cooperation, this critical relationship is nonetheless beset by myriad points of tension.
He said Baucus, if confirmed to be next US envoy to Beijing, will confront a number of potentially destabilizing disagreements which threaten to undermine the immediate ability of the two countries to work together jointly on other issues, citing maritime conflicts in the East and South China Seas, disagreement over what constitutes a violation of human rights and insufficient military-military communication.
“On the more hopeful side of things, both countries appear to be working ever more closely together on the question of keeping Pyongyang denuclearized, on climate change and on world trade,” Schell said.