Meet Gary Locke: America's New Ambassador to China

The current Commerce Secretary is a rock star in China, but bland in the U.S.

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President Obama will nominate Commerce Secretary Gary Locke to replace Jon Huntsman as U.S. ambassador to China. An announcement is expected for later today. If confirmed, the 61-year-old Locke--who served two terms as governor of Washington--would be the first Chinese-American to hold the position. Here's what you need to know about him:

The Chinese love him
Locke's personal history and numerous trips to the country in his capacity as governor and Commerce Secretary have made him a high-profile figure, and a favorite of the Chinese people. "On a trip last October to open a Sam’s Club warehouse store in Guangdong province," write Bloomberg reporters Nicholas Johnston and Michael Forsythe, "[Locke] was rushed by so many fans that Huntsman, who was accompanying him, compared Locke’s air of celebrity to that of the rock star Bono, of the group U2."

Americans are lukewarm on him
The Washington Post'Anne Kornblut and Ed O'Keefe note that Locke "has not emerged as a star in the Obama orbit" despite his department's solid handling of its only major project under his watch, the 2010 Census. Locke, they say, was Obama's "third choice for the Commerce position, after the nomination of Bill Richardson was pulled over ethics concerns and Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) withdrew over policy disagreements." Even the hometown Seattle Post-Intelligencer categorizes Locke as a "sometimes bland politician"

He just might represent a breakthrough for U.S.-China relations
On his Washington Post blog, O'Keefe explains why Locke's nomination is an olive branch from the White House to Beijing. "Tapping the son of Chinese immigrants to serve as America's ambassador to China is perhaps one of the grandest gestures President Obama could make to a country that takes gestures seriously," writes O'Keefe. The "unwieldy" structure of the Commerce department left Locke looking "under-used" at times. Obama's unconventional pick of Huntsman in 2009 attracted more headline, but the Locke pick today "makes much more sense from a diplomatic and economic standpoint."

Born in Seattle in 1950 to second generation immigrant parents, Locke spoke only Cantonese until the age of five. He graduated from Yale undergrad in 1972 and Boston University law school in 1975 and was first elected to the Washington state legislature in 1982. Served as Washington's governor from 1997 to 2005 and provided the Democratic response to George W. Bush 2003 State of the Union. Declined to seek a third term, entering the private sector to join international litigation firm Davis Wright Tremaine, where he co-chairing the firm's China practice group. He supported Hillary Clinton in the 2008 Democratic presidential primary, which didn't prevent Obama from choosing him to be his Secretary of Commerce. The senate unanimously confirmed his nomination in 2009.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.