U.S. President Barack Obama is planning to nominate Sen. Max Baucus to replace the outgoing ambassador in Beijing, Gary Locke.
China’s most vocal demographic, the microbloggers of social media platform Weibo, have already done a bit of research on the six-term Democrat from Montana, and they are already welcoming him to Beijing even though Baucus has yet to officially accept the position.
"Welcome to Beijing, don’t forget to get a good [pollution] mask!” one blogger wrote in response to the announcement. Many people expressed concern over how the 72-year-old would deal with the capital city’s hazardous air pollution, something the Helena, Mont., native likely hasn’t experienced -- not for extended periods of time. “It’s kind of inhumane to make a 72-year-old suffer in Beijing air,” one blogger said before offering some useful advice. “Don’t worry, Phillips offers a great indoor air purifier, so you no longer have to worry about that.”
“Is this going to be his last assignment?” another asked.
Obama’s decision to appoint Baucus is seen as a move to focus attention on trade issues -- which Baucus has dealt with extensively as a senator -- a key point on Beijing and Washington’s agenda. Many also see the “uncontroversial and unsexy” Baucus nomination, as described by Foreign Policy, as a fresh take on leadership in Beijing.
"Someone without a focus on security, and more on trade, is something that will keep Beijing calm,” one user wrote, noting China’s ongoing territorial disputes with U.S. ally Japan. “It’s an interesting [pick] in the sense that security competition with China is heating up and he doesn’t have much of a record [on security issues],” Dan Blumenthal, director of Asian studies at the American Enterprise Institute, said in the Foreign Policy piece.
The past two ambassadors, Jon Huntsman and Locke, have had a lot of experience dealing with China specifically. Huntsman spoke Mandarin and adopted a daughter from China, and he served as ambassador and in other diplomatic posts all over Asia prior to his Beijing stint. Locke, who is of Chinese heritage, made a splash when he arrived in Beijing and photos of him paying with coupons at Starbucks and refusing seat upgrades on local flights went viral. Baucus, whom Foreign Policy called “an introvert rather than a showman,” will likely keep a lower profile than his predecessors.