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UPDATED: March 3, 2014 NO. 10 MARCH 6, 2014
The 'Green' China Hand
The new U.S. ambassador has deep connections but little experience in managing Sino-U.S. relations
By Yu Lintao

NEW CAREER: U.S. Ambassador to China Max Baucus speaks with reporters alongside his wife after being confirmed by the Senate on February 6 in Washington, D.C. (XINHUA/AFP)

On February 21, the day of former U.S. Senator Max Baucus' swearing in as the country's new ambassador to China, U.S. President Barack Obama caused a ruckus by meeting with the Dalai Lama, a move that Beijing said caused damage to bilateral relations.

Although most Chinese analysts on U.S. studies have a positive view of the senior U.S. politician, the complicated Sino-U.S. relationship may mean that the latest incarnation of his political life will not be an easy one.

Analysts claimed that the rich political experience and personal connections of Baucus in the U.S. political circle may help him play a better role in serving as a bridge between Washington and Beijing and promoting Sino-U.S.

relations. However, observers also added that without a sufficient level of strategic mutual trust between the two countries, Baucus needs to make the most of his political wisdom.

Weaknesses and strengths

Compared with former ambassadors Jon Huntsman, who speaks fluent Mandarin Chinese, and Gary Locke, who is of Chinese descent, Baucus has far less association with China. Can this "green hand" ambassador perform well during his term in Beijing? The questions regarding his inexperience in security issues as well as his age have cast doubts on his capacity for many Chinese.

A Chinese micro-blogger on Sina Weibo with a pseudonym posted a message asking if the newly appointed 72-year-old U.S. envoy can bear the severe air pollution in Beijing. Chinese Internet users, mostly young people, have become accustomed to a U.S. ambassador like Locke, whose youthful energy made him a kind of pop-star figure in China.

However, diplomacy is not show business. Analysts believe that the new ambassador has his own strong suits in promoting Sino-U.S. relations.

"As a six-term senator, Baucus has extensive personal connections in the U.S. political circle. Despite Beijing and Washington's numerous official exchange and dialogue channels, the personal connections of the ambassador are also very helpful in promoting relations of the two countries," said Fu Mengzi, Vice President and a senior researcher at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations.

It was reported that Baucus has a close relationship with President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden. He also keeps sound relations with his colleagues in the U.S. Senate as the third most senior senator. Thus, it is possible for him to use his influence on Capitol Hill as well as in the Washington political circle to facilitate his China job.

Jin Canrong, Associate Dean of the School of International Studies at Renmin University of China, said Baucus' former work as a lawmaker well-versed in U.S. trade policy as well as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee may help promote Sino-U.S. trade relations.

Fu echoed Jin, saying that economic and trade relations are currently the most important part of the Sino-U.S. relationship and promoting economic recovery is the prime task of the Obama administration for the remainder of his presidency. Therefore, Washington needs to handle its economic relations with China duly. Fu said the appointment of Baucus sends a signal that the United States is eager to tap the huge trade and investment opportunities in China.

Baucus is known for his role in helping China join the World Trade Organization in 2001. He also lobbied for China's special U.S. trade status known as "permanent normal trade relations."

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