WASHINGTON — Gary Locke told a Senate committee Thursday that he'll try to increase exports and expand human rights if he becomes the first Chinese-American to fill the position of U.S. ambassador to China.
Locke, the secretary of commerce for the past two years and a former two-term Democratic governor of Washington state, appears well on his way, after making it through an easy confirmation hearing.
Appearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Locke said his career as a public servant already had taken him "from one Washington to the other" and now would land him in Beijing.
"If my father, Jimmy, were still alive, he would have been proud, if I am confirmed, to see his son become the first Chinese-American U.S. ambassador to the country of his and my mother's birth," Locke told the committee.
Although the panel didn't vote, Locke encountered no opposition and nothing but good wishes from Democrats and Republicans alike.
Democratic Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, the committee's chairman, told Locke he'll be responsible for advancing "one of the most important relationships for our country today."
Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar, the committee's top-ranked Republican, said Locke was taking on "one of the most difficult and complex jobs" in the federal government.
Locke, accompanied by his wife, Mona, and their three children, Emily, Dylan and Madeline, vowed to tackle "areas of vigorous disagreement" between the U.S. and China.
"That includes human rights, where we have significant concerns about China's actions in recent months, especially the crackdown on journalists, lawyers, bloggers, artists and religious groups," Locke said. "The protection and the promotion of liberty and freedom are fundamental tenets of American foreign policy."
Locke called China a nation that his ancestors "would hardly recognize from their childhoods, filled with ultra-modern cities where hundreds of millions have been lifted out of poverty." He said he'd seek to capitalize on that growth.
"Helping U.S. companies do more business in China will be a big part of what I do every day," Locke said.
Locke told the senators that increasing exports to China will help create jobs and economic growth in the United States while improving the quality of life of the Chinese by giving them more access to American-made products and services, which he described as "the best in the world."
"Let me be clear: The administration welcomes a strong, prosperous and successful China," Locke said.
If confirmed, Locke will replace Jon Huntsman, whose resignation took effect at the end of April. Huntsman, who was one of only a few Republicans in the Obama administration, is considering a bid for his party's presidential nomination next year.
Locke said he was humbled to be appointed for the new job by President Barack Obama. His grandfather moved from China to the United States a little more than 100 years ago, finding a job as a household servant in exchange for English lessons.
"My father came to America as a very young boy," Locke told the committee. "He joined the U.S. Army before the outbreak of World War II and was part of the Normandy invasion and some of the fiercest battles in France. After the war he returned to China where he met and married my mother. He brought her back to Seattle to start a family."
Introducing Locke to his committee, Kerry said: "It's the American story."
MORE FROM MCCLATCHY
Follow the latest politics news at McClatchy's Planet Washington