Barack Obama has sent a warning to China on trade and intellectual property issues, with US Democrat Senator Max Baucus set to replace Gary Locke as the nation’s ambassador to Beijing.
The Montana Senator has a long history on Chinese trade issues, helping to lead the U.S. effort in the 1990s to admit China into the World Trade Organization in 2001, normalising trade relations with the country that is now the world’s second largest economy. Baucus, 72, chairs the powerful Senate Finance Committee which covers trade policy. He has a history of agitating over China’s trade and currency policy with critiques stretching back to the 1990s, particularly on intellectual property piracy.
While the nomination is not yet official it comes amid rising tensions between the United States and China due to the latter’s aggression towards US allies Japan and The Philippines in the East and South China Seas. Last week US guided missile cruiser, USS Cowpens was forced to take evasive action to avoid hitting a Chinese warship in international waters, seen as the most significant U.S.-China maritime incident since 2009.
The Baucus nomination signals a change in strategy for the Obama Administration which is struggling after a tough year both domestically and internationally with the exception of the first signs of a nuclear deal with Tehran.
Obama’s first two China envoys were regarded as Sinophiles, Mormon Republican John Huntsman and the Administration’s first Commerce Secretary, Chinese-American Gary Locke.
In 2010 Baucus backed the administration’s complaints to the WTO about China blocking steel imports and limiting credit card companies’ access to China’s market, branding them “critical steps forward in our effort to enforce our market access rights in China.”
“China has been given a free pass on its currency practices for far too long. We need to hold China and our other trading partners accountable for their actions, and we must acknowledge — and take steps to remedy — those actions that harm the competitiveness of American businesses and workers, “ Baucus said in February 2011.
In July this year he joined with three other members of Congress, writing to Obama about the theft of intellectual property and to demanding it tell China to curb practices that discriminated against US companies.
Baucus was first elected to the Senate in 1978 and recently announced his intention to retire from the chamber at the end of next year. Confirmation hearings are expected to be held in the new year.