Posted by: Dexter Roberts on February 26, 2009
It’s news certain to please the policy chiefs of Beijing. Yesterday, Obama announced he intends to appoint 59-year-old Gary Locke, the first and only Chinese-American to serve as governor in the U.S., as the next U.S. commerce minister. Locke is a former two-term Democratic Governor of Washington state.
Locke, the son of Chinese immigrants who ran a restaurant and grocery in Seattle, has close relations with China going back many years and is known as a centrist, pro-trade Democrat (by some estimates, one-third of jobs in Washington are tied to international trade). As governor, he led multiple trade missions to the mainland and opened a state trade office in Guangzhou. After vacating the governor’s seat, Locke helped arrange a visit to Seattle by the Chinese president Hu Jintao in 2006. And last summer, Locke joined in the controversial Olympic Torch run, carrying the torch in China on one of its final legs before Beijing.
The news about Locke comes as Beijing grows increasingly nervous that trade protectionism, including from the U.S., may target Chinese exports. Speaking in an interview with Xinhua on Wednesday, Chinese trade minister Chen Deming warned: “No country can escape the global financial crisis and economic downturn. Only through opening markets can we solve the problem.” Chen is heading a delegation of Chinese businesses on a four nation buying tour of Europe that includes stops in Germany, Switzerland, Spain, and Britain. “China cannot save the world, but China will show that it will be able to keep its economy in shape, and that will be a big contribution to the world,” Chen said in the Xinhua interview. “China will stand against protectionism and remain committed to open market in trade and investment.”
“Our nation’s economic success is tied directly to America continuing to lead in technology and innovation and in exporting those products, services and ideas to markets around the globe,” Locke said after the announcement by Obama on Wednesday, according to Reuters. But despite the pro-trade pronouncements from both sides of the Pacific, job losses and failing businesses could well spur a wave of protectionism ahead, predict many watchers of the Sino-U.S. relationship. China perhaps should not get its hopes up just yet.