Senator John McCain is “concerned” with Max Baucus becoming the new United States Ambassador to China. On Tuesday, Senator Baucus (D-Montana) testified in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and answered questions from his colleagues. The Committee approved his nomination and he could be confirmed by the Senate as early as next Tuesday.
The Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, Robert Menendez, stated that he was positive Baucus would become the next ambassador to China. However, McCain was troubled by a comment Baucus made when answering a question about China’s new Air Defense Identification Zone. China’s announcement of the zone has sparked outrage from nearby Japan, which has dismissed it as a provocation. Foreign aircraft are now expected to confirm their presence in the area China now considers its airspace, and failing to do so would be considered an act of aggression. Japan and China have seen tensions dramatically rise of late because of territorial disputes in the East China Sea. The United States has supported Japan’s claim to the Senkaku Islands, stating that the status-quo in the region must be maintained.
Baucus responded to the question about the Air Defense Identification Zone saying that he “is no real expert on China” and its origin was likely a result of Chinese nationalistic pride; which Baucus said Americans could relate to. However, McCain was concerned about the comments and warned Baucus to be wary of the Chinese leadership. McCain was quoted as saying “This isn’t a matter of if they’re proud as we are proud. This is a matter of a rising threat…because of the profound belief in Chinese leadership that China will regain the dominant role (in Asia).”
An aide to Baucus gave assurances that the senator was just expressing humility as he embarked on the final stages of the confirmation process. Baucus assured McCain that he shares in his view that the United States must strengthen its alliances with regional countries to counter the rising tensions. He indicated that he believes that the U.S.-China relationship will shape global affairs for generations to come, maintaining that he will place importance on bilateral trade, carbon emissions, and security threats. Baucus stated that in a previous meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, the two repeatedly stressed cooperation between their respective nations and their mutual desire of avoiding conflict. He promised, however, that he would uphold American values of human rights and freedom while urging Chinese leadership to do the same.
Although Senator McCain was concerned about some of Baucus’ comments during the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, the prospective ambassador has the support of the overwhelming majority of his colleagues. Senator Bob Corker (R-Tennessee) stated that he is looking forward to seeing Baucus in China and applauded his showing of independence over the years. Despite having an obligation to support the Obama administration’s agenda, many of his colleagues believe he will show some autonomy and not “just parrot the talking points”. If he is confirmed, which it appears that he will be, Baucus will have an incredibly difficult mission to complete and support from members of Congress will only help.
By Peter Grazul