Max Baucus, the new US Ambassador, is now here in China. At a time when American media taunted Barack Obama about offering ambassadorships to his campaign donors, Baucus was confirmed with the whole congress in favor, a demonstration of the level trust the 70-plus Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee has gained as a senior political leader.
The inherent importance of American ambassadorship to China has always been a factor carefully considered. Since establishment of diplomatic ties in 1979, all American ambassadors to China during six different American Presidents have had a special political resume. Before that China and the US set up liaison offices in each other’s country with high-ranking Chiefs. David Bruce, the first Chief of the US Liaison Office, had been US Ambassador to France. And his successor George Bush later became US President. Bush proudly recalled that he had chosen China rather than UK or France because it was “more challenging” and that as China rose the future of US-China relations would have a significant bearing on the whole world. From Leonard Woodcock, the first US Ambassador to China, to Arthur Hummel, Stapleton Roy, Jon Huntsman and the most recent former Commerce Secretary Gary Locke (who has just resigned from his ambassadorship), with rich political experiences and profound knowledge of China, these envoys have been witnesses and experiencer of China-US relationship in its different stages and their years in China have left deep marks in their political careers.
Ambassadors serve as a bridge of communication between his home country and the host country. American ambassadors to China may have varying influences in Washington’s decision-making process. David Bruce served with the Office of Strategic Services during World War II and observed the invasion of Normandy landing. It was his report that convinced President Dwight D. Eisenhower to end Allan Dulles‘s leadership in CIA, which had an important impact on contact with China. His successor Woodcock firmly opposed US trade restrictions against China, supported granting of permanent most-favored nation status, and opened substantive economic contacts between China and the US, thereby winning China’s trust. Gary Locke weathered storms but he indeed deserves credit for facilitating American export to China and keeping China as America’s fastest growing export market in the times of global financial crisis. He achieved a lot even on specific issues. For example, during his term, US visa processing wait time was reduced from 70-100 days to 3-5 days for Chinese. With this, he fully deserves the title of most outstanding promoter of tourist and cultural exchanges between China and the US.
American ambassadors’ political role in the making of Washington’s China Policy depends on their personal influence and connections in the American political circle and their knowledge of China. In this regard, Baucus stands in a position better than many previous ambassadors to China. In his forty-year career in the US Congress, he has much political accomplishment and extensive connections. As Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, he presided over the adopted and promulgation of free trade agreements with eleven countries. The position has also given him opportunity to “travel to emerging markets on behalf of the United States”. In the past three years, Baucus visited Germany, Spain, Belgium, Russia, Japan, New Zealand, Brazil, Colombia and China. He was very modest to say that he was “no real expert on China” but China is in no way strange to him. He visited China as a college student 50 years ago. From the first formal visit to China in 1993 he had travelled to this country for eight times by 2010. He said that he had been working to strengthen US-China relations through economic diplomacy such as encouraging China to join the world trade regime and supporting permanent normal trade relations with China and China’s WTO membership. In his 28 January 2014 testimony to the US Congress, he said that he believed that “a strong geopolitical relationship can be born out of a strong economic relationship.” He believes that US-China relationship is one of the most important bilateral relationships in the world, which will shape global affairs for generations to come and which therefore must be properly handled.
In terms of economic scales, the US and China are the largest and second largest economies in the world. An extensive and profound relationship between the two has tangible benefits for their peoples. In 2013, two-way trade in goods and services exceeded 500 billion dollars. China and the US are re-opening the negotiation of bilateral investment treaty and there are many items on the priority list or deserving serious consideration, such as China’s status as a market economy, FTA negotiation and US approaches towards China on the question of TPP. Baucus’s arrival as the new ambassador is a good news for China-US economic relations, but its significance goes beyond that. With productive work, Ambassador Baucus will help the US extend rather than deviating from America’s economic strategy towards China of integrating the latter into the world economy (despite the perception of quite some people that the US is isolating China with TPP). He will also guide the US towards recognizing and encouraging China’s positive role in the shifting international order. With rich political experience in handling security affairs, Ambassador Baucus is also expected to adapt to his new office soon and start working to promoting comprehensive constructive cooperation with China.
Fu Mengzi, Vice President, China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations