Baucus Approved by Senate Panel to Be Ambassador to China

A Senate committee approved Senator Max Baucus’s nomination to become U.S. ambassador to China, meaning the Finance Committee chairman is one step closer to filling a high-profile overseas post.

Senators on the Foreign Relations Committee, by voice vote, recommended the Montana Democrat’s nomination to the full Senate, which may vote later this week. Baucus’s confirmation would spur leadership changes at two Senate committees that oversee taxes and energy.

Baucus told Foreign Relations panel members last week that he would place a priority on boosting trade while also pressing China over computer-security breaches and crackdowns on political dissidents. He said both nations must collaborate on curbing greenhouse-gas emissions by promoting projects on energy efficiency, transportation and carbon limits.

Baucus’s departure from the Finance Committee would elevate Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden to lead the panel. Wyden, who now leads the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, would be replaced on that panel by Senator Mary Landrieu, a Louisiana Democrat and supporter of the oil and natural gas industries.

If confirmed, Baucus would succeed Gary Locke as ambassador. Baucus had planned to retire from Congress at the end of this year, his sixth term. President Barack Obama announced that Baucus was his choice for the post on Dec. 20.

Trade relations in coming years may include the prospect of China joining a Trans-Pacific Partnership pact and negotiating a China-U.S. bilateral investment treaty, both tasks for which Baucus is well-suited, said Kenneth G. Lieberthal, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

“Senator Baucus’s background in the Senate positions him very well to both understand the politics of these issues in the U.S. and to communicate effectively with the Chinese as those complicated issues move to the center of the table,” said Lieberthal, who was senior director for Asia on the National Security Council under President Bill Clinton.

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