Locke's China appointment brings family's story full circle

Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, January 2003 photo.
Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, January 2003 photo. Lui Kit Wong/Tacoma News Tribune/MCT

WASHINGTON — A little more than a century ago, Gary Locke's grandfather moved from China to Washington state, where he found a job as a houseboy in exchange for English lessons.

In a ceremony at the White House on Wednesday, Locke was officially nominated to become the next U.S. ambassador to China, promising to be a "devoted and passionate advocate for America, the country where I was born and raised."

Locke remembered his father, who died in January.

"I know that if he were still alive, it would be one of his proudest moments to see his son named as the United States ambassador to his ancestral homeland," Locke said.

If he's confirmed by the Senate, Locke, a former two-term Democratic governor from Washington state and the U.S. commerce secretary for the past two years, said he would work to open up more Chinese markets for American businesses.

And Locke, 61, told President Barack Obama that he would help him manage "one of America's most critical and complex diplomatic and economic and strategic relationships."

Locke faces a diplomatic task on the home front, too.

He said that he, his wife, Mona — a former Seattle television reporter — and their three children were excited about the move to Beijing, "to varying degrees."

As someone who moved around a lot as a child, Obama said, he tried to commiserate with Locke's eldest daughter, Emily, who turned 14 on Wednesday.

"I assured her it would be great 10 years from now," Obama said. "Right now it's probably a drag."

Obama called Locke "one of our nation's most respected and admired public servants."

The president noted that Locke, as the nation's first Chinese-American governor, "worked tirelessly to attract jobs and businesses to Washington state, and he doubled exports to China."

And as commerce secretary, Locke oversaw the 2010 census, a project "that ended on time and under budget, returning $2 billion to American taxpayers," Obama said.

Now, as "the grandson of a Chinese immigrant who went on to live the American dream," Locke is the right person to continue U.S. cooperation with China, the president said.

"When he's in Beijing, I know that American companies will be able to count on him to represent their interests in front of China's top leaders," Obama said.

Obama nominated Locke to replace Jon Huntsman, whose resignation is effective at the end of April. Huntsman is one of a few Republicans in the Obama administration, and is said to be weighing a bid for his party's presidential nomination to challenge Obama in 2012.

If the Senate confirms him, Locke, Washington's governor from 1997 to 2005, would become the first Chinese-American to fill the position of U.S. ambassador to China.

Locke said he'll be leaving "one of the best jobs I've ever had" as commerce secretary but that he was "deeply humbled and honored" to be chosen for the new position.


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