Monday, March 2, 2009

A Good Week for Chinese-Americans and Chinese-American relations

The Obama administration was off to a shaky start in US-Chinese relations when Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner directly called China a currency manipulator. The Administration seems to have switched directions this week after that gaff when it named its second Chinese American, Gary Locke, to lead the Commerce Department. (The first to be named was Steven Chu, Secretary of Energy.) The decision to name Secretary-designate Locke after two failed nominations marks a move toward positive Chinese-American relations.
Gary Locke was a partner of Seattle-based law firm Davis Wright Tremaine, where he worked on issues involving China, energy and governmental relations. He then became the first Chinese-American to hold the position of U.S. Governor when he became governor of Washington State in 1997. While Governor, Locke became known as a pragmatist who focused on international opportunities. After he stepped down in 2005, Locke worked on Chinese President Hu Jintao’s visit to Seattle in 2006.
Locke’s history of a close relationship with China (and his comparatively scandal-free resume) no doubt put Locke on Obama’s radar for Commerce Secretary. But what does it mean for the future for the future of the commerce department?
When Locke accepted the nomination, he said “Our nation's economic success is tied directly to America continuing to lead in technology and innovation and in exporting those products, services and ideas to markets around the globe. The Department of Commerce can and will help create jobs and the economic vitality our country needs.”
Although these seem to be words for words sake, there is something more in the nomination. The Commerce Secretary works toward increasing jobs at home; opening global markets for US companies and eliminates trade barriers, and expands export opportunities. Locke already has a good relationship with Chinese officials. It has not been any secret that the US has had a large trade deficit with China. Perhaps I’m being a bit optimistic, but it seems like Locke has been nominated because he may be one of the few people who have the ear of China and the ability to talk to them about “increasing their domestic consumption” and balancing trade in a way that they may be willing to listen. Obama may be trying to bait China with honey by having a person they trust go to talk to them. There’s nothing wrong with a bit of good diplomacy and negotiation.