For Locke and country, a move to China presents an opportunity

He's poised to join two Northwest legends in serving a critical role as ambassador to the world's second largest economy.

He's poised to join two Northwest legends in serving a critical role as ambassador to the world's second largest economy.

It's a muckamuck pantheon with names like Mike Mansfield and Tom Foley.

Two Northwest politicos recast their time in Congress to serve as America's official rep to a Pacific Rim heavyweight.

Add former Washington Gov. Locke, the U.S. Commerce Secretary who reportedly is being nominated by President Barack Obama as ambassador to China.  Just like Mansfield and Foley, Gary Locke will be — presupposing approval by the U.S. Senate — assigned to a critical, evolving nation boasting the world's second-largest economy.

When Montana's Mike Mansfield and Spokane's Tom Foley served, that second-largest behemoth was Japan. Enter China, numero dos beginning this year.

Gary Locke is now poised to play a seminal role in the development of a key strategic relationship. He carries both the burden and the advantage of his heritage: he's the grandson of Chinese immigrants, an emotive cudgel if ever there was. Locke is also the consummate politician, an Eagle Scout and a former prosecutor with a moral compass and a temperament that is simultaneously inspiring and unruffled.

During his tenure as Commerce Secretary, Locke forfeited his dance card with lawmakers such as Rep. Norm Dicks and Sen. Maria Cantwell after giving approval to move NOAA from Seattle to Newport, Oregon. Fairly or not, it was perceived as an anti-home-team maneuver, even though Locke was in the non-parochial role of a Cabinet secretary. As a result, a number of Locke's Northwest allies, many of them vital congressional deciders, quickly fell away.

Gary Locke's assignment as U.S. Ambassador is not a fallback gig. He's positioned to make a tangible difference as both a representative of the United States and as an agitator for democratic reform.

The ideal template is a Mansfield/Foley hybrid: Learn the language and act, as near as possible, unyielding when it comes to both international trade and human rights.

Can China's "peaceful rise" accommodate freedom of expression and religion and assembly? The lesson from the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia is to support human dignity and be on the right side of history. One of the world's greatest cultures is strangled by an autocratic government. The mission of any ambassador must be to goose international trade and advance human rights.

Ideally, Locke will blend his virtuous tendencies with his Commerce portfolio. That means a bare-knuckled negotiating style and highlighting the obvious: That the PRC is a Soviet analogue with thousands of political prisoners such as Nobelist Liu Xiaobo.

Washington's former governor has a chance to leave a meaningful imprint. He should seize it.


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About the Authors & Contributors

Peter Jackson

Peter Jackson

Peter Jackson is the former editorial-page editor of the Everett Herald. Follow him on Twitter @phardinjackson