It's not often that you have the POTUS actually out in the Diplomatic Reception Room to announce an ambassadorial appointment. He did it when he announced his nomination for the outgoing ambassador to China, Jon Huntsman in May 2009. And he did it again today to announce Gary Locke as Ambassador Huntsman's successor at the US Embassy in Beijing:
THE PRESIDENT: Good morning, everybody. As many people know, our current Ambassador to China, Jon Huntsman, has decided to step down from his current job. During his tenure, Jon has been an outstanding advocate for this administration and for this country. He made a real sacrifice in moving his family out of the state that they loved and has helped to strengthen our critical relationship with the Chinese government and the Chinese people. And so I am very grateful for his service.
In replacing Ambassador Huntsman, I can think of nobody who is more qualified than Gary Locke. More than 100 years ago, Gary’s grandfather left China on a steamship 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.
In the years between these milestones, Gary has distinguished himself as one of our nation’s most respected and admired public servants. As our country’s first Chinese-American governor, he worked tirelessly to attract jobs and businesses to Washington State, and he doubled exports to China.
Two years ago, I asked Gary to continue this work as Commerce Secretary. I wanted him to advocate for America’s businesses and American exports all around the world, make progress on our relationship with China, and use the management skills he developed as governor to reform a complex and sprawling agency.
He has done all that and more. He’s been a point person for my National Export Initiative, and last year, Gary’s department led an historic number of trade missions that helped promote American businesses and support American jobs. He’s overseen an increase in American exports, and particularly exports to China, a country we recently signed trade deals with that will support 235,000 American jobs.
As Commerce Secretary, Gary oversaw a Census process that ended on time and under budget, returning $2 billion to American taxpayers. He’s earned the trust of business leaders across America by listening to their concerns, making it easier for them to export their goods abroad, and dramatically reducing the time it takes to get a patent. 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.
As one of the world’s fastest-growing economies, our relationship with China is 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.
As the grandson of a Chinese immigrant who went on to live the American Dream, Gary is the right person to continue this cooperation. I know he will bring the same skills and experience that he brought to Commerce Secretary to this new position that he’s about to embark on.
I want to thank him and I also want to thank his gorgeous and extraordinary family, who’s standing here -- Mona, Emily, Dylan, and Maddy. It’s always tough to move families. Maddy just turned 14 today, so I was commiserating --
SECRETARY LOCKE: Emily.
THE PRESIDENT: Emily just turned 14 today, so I was commiserating with her as somebody who moved around a lot when I was a kid as well. I assured her it would be great 10 years from now. (Laughter.) Right now it’s probably a drag. But I'm absolutely confident that this is -- we could not have better representative of the United States of America in this critical relationship than we're going to get from the Locke family.
And, Gary, I wish you all the best of luck in Beijing. Thank you so much.
SECRETARY LOCKE: Thank you, Mr. President. Well, thank you very much, Mr. President. And I'm deeply humbled and honored to be chosen as your next ambassador to China.
It was a little over a century ago that my grandfather first came to America to work as a houseboy for a family in the state of Washington in exchange for English lessons. And he went back to China, had a family, and so my father was also born in China, and came over as a teenager a few years later. He then enlisted in the United States Army just before the outbreak of World War II, became part of that “greatest generation,” and saw action on the beaches of Normandy and on the march to Berlin, and then came back to Seattle to raise a family and start a small business.
My father never imagined that one of his children could ever serve as the Secretary of Commerce in the United States of America. And he was beaming with pride, Mr. President, the day you presided over my swearing-in ceremony. Sadly, Dad passed away this past January. But 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.
I'm going back to the birthplace of my grandfather, my father, my mom and her side of the family, and I'll be doing so as a devoted and passionate advocate for America, the country where I was born and raised.
As Commerce Secretary, I’ve helped open up foreign markets for American businesses so they can create more jobs right here in America. And I’m 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.
I’m excited to take on this new challenge, as is my wife and our children -- to varying degrees among the kids. (Laughter.) And we’ll be leaving Washington, D.C., with great memories and many new friends.
Being Commerce Secretary has been one of the best jobs I’ve ever had, thanks to the immensely talented and dedicated men and women within the Department of Commerce, in the White House, and within the Cabinet. And I’m proud of the work that we’ve done at the Commerce Department, delivering services faster, serving the needs of U.S. businesses and workers, saving taxpayers billions of dollars by being more efficient in everything that we do. And I’m confident that these accomplishments will stand the test of time.
Mr. President, I’m eager to assume this new position. And it’s a privilege and a solemn responsibility to serve you and the American people as the next United States ambassador to China. Thank you for the confidence and the trust that you’ve placed in me. Thank you.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Thank you so much.
It'll be interesting to watch US Mission China for the next couple of years. Josh Chin in this WSJ piece points out that President Obama is "trading in a white former governor who speaks Mandarin for a Chinese-American former governor who doesn’t." The piece also talks about perceptions and whether Mr. Locke’s ethnic background will be an advantage or a hindrance in his new job as the first Chinese-American chief of mission in Beijing. Inevitably, Mr. Locke's story will be one more example of America as a place where anything is possible.
On a related note, the WH has released a collection of soundbites praising the President's selection of Mr. Locke as the next US ambasssador to China. Looks like a who's who in American business. Jim Rogers, CEO of Duke Energy calls the selection, "an inspired choice." John Frisbie, President of US-China Business Council (USCBC) calls it, "a great choice." Robert Holleyman, President and CEO of Business Software Alliance (BSA) says, “Secretary Locke is an exceptionally well-qualified and respected choice to be US Ambassador to China."
WSJ: A Locke for China Ambassador? Evaluating Obama’s Expected Choice
Praise for President Obama’s Choice to Nominate Gary Locke to be Ambassador to China
DOC: Gary Locke's Official Biography