Former Washington Governor
4:58 am
Tue March 8, 2011

Gary Locke expected to be the next US ambassador to China

President Barack Obama is expected to nominate US Commerce Secretary and former Washington Governor Gary Locke to be ambassador to China. Both as governor and Commerce Secretary, Locke has promoted close trade relations with the country from which his father and grandfather emigrated.

If Locke is confirmed as ambassador to China, he’ll become the first Chinese-American to hold the post. He was also the first Chinese American to become a governor and the first to be Secretary of Commerce.

The Obama administration is touting Locke’s experience dealing with China saying he’s formed important relationships with the country’s top political leaders. 

The Associated Press reports Locke's nomination could be announced Tuesday, and must win Senate approval:

If confirmed by the Senate, Locke would succeed Jon Huntsman, one of the few Republicans in Obama's administration. Huntsman's recently tendered resignation is effective at the end of April, and he is eyed as a potential GOP challenger to Obama in the 2012 presidential contest.

NPR's Frank James reports Locke's confirmation process is not expected to be controversial, but seen for its historic significance:

Since Locke was already confirmed by the Senate for the cabinet position, he should have fairly smooth sailing getting Senate confirmation to the important diplomatic posting. Also, it seems unlikely any senator would want to get in the way of such a historic nomination.

Political Career Began as State Representative

For more than a decade Locke represented central and southeast Seattle as a State Representative from the 37th District. In 1993, he made a successful run for King County Executive. He ran for governor in 1996, winning the first of two terms, a period marked by both boom and bust, as detailed by the Seattle PI's Angela Galloway in 2005. 

After he was elected governor in 1996, one of Locke’s first overseas trade visits was to China. The trip included a highly publicized visit to the village where his ancestors were from. He was given a wildly enthusiastic reception at the time. During a visit to a school, students reportedly rushed his limousine to shake his hand through the window.  

Forging Relations With China, and Chinese Leaders

His close connection to China continued after he was out of office. In private law practice he specialized in issues dealing with China. In 2006, he was instrumental in making sure Chinese President Hu Jintao’s visit to the U-S included a stop in Seattle.  

More recently, as Commerce Secretary, Locke was one of the guests at a White House state dinner for the Chinese leader.  Gary Locke’s father Jimmy, who was born in China, died in Seattle in January at the age of 93.  Until his retirement he’d run a small neighborhood grocery store.