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Obama Nominates New US Ambassador to China

President Barack Obama (l) announces that Commerce Sec. Gary Locke will be the next US ambassador to China, in the Diplomatic Room of the White House, March 9, 2011

President Barack Obama on Wednesday named his Commerce Secretary, Gary Locke, to be the new U.S. Ambassador to China. If confirmed, Locke will be the first American of Chinese ancestry to serve as the nation’s top liaison in Beijing.

The president said that as the grandson of a Chinese immigrant to the United States, Locke is the right person to advance ties between the two countries.

“More than 100 years ago, Gary’s grandfather left China on a steamboat bound for America, where he worked as a domestic servant in Washington state. A century later, his grandson will return to China as America’s top diplomat.”

Locke said he is eager to begin the assignment. “I am going back to the birthplace of my grandfather, my father, my mom and her side of the family, and I will be doing so as a devoted and passionate advocate for America - the country where I was born and raised.”

Locke’s appointment to the post requires confirmation by the U.S. Senate.

He would replace outgoing Ambassador Jon Huntsman, a Republican who might seek to challenge Obama in the 2012 presidential race.

China is the world’s most populous country and has one of the fastest-growing economies. Relations between the United States and China often have been strained over human rights and economic issues.

As he introduced Locke, the Obama called the U.S.-China relationship “one of the most critical of the 21st century.”

“Over the last two years, we worked hard to build a relationship that serves our national interest - addressing global security issues and expanding opportunities for American companies and American workers. Continued cooperation between our countries will be good for America, it will be good for China and it will be good for the world,” said the president.

One of Obama’s economic priorities is to dramatically increase U.S. exports, especially to China. Locke said he has worked toward that end and would continue to do so in his new post.

“As Commerce Secretary, I have helped open up foreign markets for American businesses so they can create more jobs right here in America. And I am eager to continue that work in China and to help you, Mr. President, manage one of America’s most critical and complex diplomatic, economic and strategic relationships.”

The president said U.S. companies will be able to count on the new ambassador to represent their interests in front of China’s top leaders.