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March 9, 2011 at 9:07 AM

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Obama officially nominates Locke as China envoy

Posted by Kyung M. Song

WASHINGTON -- President Obama on Wednesday morning nominated Commerce Secretary Gary Locke as ambassador to China, a post that potentially could prove higher in profile than Locke's two-year stint in Washington, D.C.

Obama's announcement in the Diplomatic Room at the White House made official news that leaked out Monday evening. Locke, former Washington governor and son of Chinese immigrants, would replace Jon Huntsman, a former Republican governor of Utah who is expected to weigh a presidential bid.

In his remarks, Obama said he could think of "nobody who is more qualified than Gary Locke" for the job.

"More than 100 years ago, Gary’s grandfather left China on a steamship bound for America, where he worked as a domestic servant in Washington State. A century later, his grandson will return to China as America’s top diplomat," Obama said. "When he’s in Beijing, I know that American companies will be able to count on him to represent their interests in front of China’s top leaders."

Locke's wife, Mona, and their three children, Emily, Dylan and Maddy, joined him at the White House. Obama noted that Wednesday was Maddy's 14th birthday, prompting Locke to correct that it was actually Emily's.

"Emily just turned 14 today, so I was commiserating with her as somebody who moved around a lot when I was a kid as well. I assured her it would be great 10 years from now," Obama said to laughter. "Right now it’s probably a drag. But I'm absolutely confident that this is -- we could not have better representative of the United States of America in this critical relationship than we're going to get from the Locke family."

It's not clear how quickly Locke and his family would decamp their home in Bethesda, Md. Huntsman is to leave office April 30. Locke does not have a permanent No. 2 at the Commerce Department; Rebecca Blank is serving as deputy secretary.

Locke's tenure in the Obama administration has been fairly low profile. One highlight was conducting the 2010 census. Locke made the media rounds to urge Americans to fill out their census questionnaires. He even appeared on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, who demanded, "how do I know you won't take this information and put me in a Japanese internment camp?"

The Senate would have to confirm Locke's nomination.

Sen. Patty Murray lauded Locke as an experienced hand who could forge successful economic ties with China.The White House also released praise for Locke from a dozen U.S corporate titans, including heads of Boeing, Honeywell, PepsiCo and the Walt Disney Co.

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