Saturday, December 21, 2013

"Don't die in the Beijing smog!"

Senator Max Baucus (D-Montana) has been nominated as America's next ambassador to China. This seems an odd choice by the President seeing how the 72-year-old Senator does not speak Chinese, nor does he have strong relations with the country. Yes he is familiar with trade issues, but why Baucus? It is appearing as though this move's priority was not on strengthening this international tie, but more of a domestic power-play by Democrats to hold on to seats for the midterms. After all, it's not the first time an ambassadorship to China would have protected Democrats political interests in Congress. President Obama nominated Jon Huntsman (who at least had experience in the region and proficiency in Mandarin Chinese) in 2009, essentially shelving the potential Republican presidential adversary in the 2012 election. Also, in the President's favor, this assignment would place a voiced-critic of Obama's Affordable Care Act on the other side of the world.


Baucus had already declared he was retiring from the Senate after serving for six terms, which would leave his seat wide-open. By appointing him as ambassador, this allows the Montana Governor (also a Democrat) to appoint a fellow party member, who as an incumbent would have a leg up in the midterms. In addition, Senator Baucus also is the chairman of the finance committee. His departure means that Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) would assume his position, leaving his position on the energy committee open, likely to be filled by another Democrat in 2014.



Baucus himself stated, "China is one of the most, if not the most important relationship in the country, in the world..." yet the priority of Obama does not seem to be in nominating the best candidate as opposed to a Democratic power-play at securing congressional power. This may be a Machiavellian assumption, but it is proving to be a strong likelihood in analyzing the selection. It is certainly a time of sensitive relations with China, with the relations between the two countries not being the strongest in recent years. As the chief envoy, Baucus will be responsible for balancing rising tensions with Japan, China’s growing economic might, contentious diplomatic issues involving North Korea, as well as other regional dilemmas.

Despite the reasoning, Senator Baucus does, at the very least, seem to put forth a full fledged effort in his public service. He will undoubtedly work to strengthen diplomatic and economic ties between the US and China. However, how does this appointment play into the Obama Administration's "Asian Pivot" strategy? For his economic and trade experience Baucus can certainly lend a hand to the long-negotiated Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), but how else can he contribute? Solidifying a democratic stronghold in Congress may not be the best course when an opportunity to improve ties with China is on the horizon.

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