Chairman Kerry Opening Statement At Nomination Hearing For Ambassador To China

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Washington, DC – This morning, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) held a nomination hearing for Gary Locke to be Ambassador to the People’s Republic of China.

The full text of his statement as prepared is below:

Today, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will consider the nomination of Commerce Secretary Gary Locke to serve as our nation’s Ambassador to the People’s Republic of China. This is an important post. If confirmed by the Senate, Secretary Locke will join an elite group of distinguished statesmen such as Winston Lord and Stapleton Roy. 

Secretary Locke’s story is quintessentially American. A descendant of hard-working immigrants, Secretary Locke’s intelligence and strong work ethic led him first from Seattle to Yale – I certainly won’t hold that against him – and then to Boston University Law School – another plus in my book. Later, as governor of Washington, he helped strengthen trade ties with China, doubling the state's exports to over $5 billion per year. At the Department of Commerce, Secretary Locke led the administration’s first cabinet-level trade mission to China – a clean energy mission – and has served as the co-chair of the U.S.-China Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade.

The President’s latest assignment for Secretary Locke may be his most challenging. The relationship between the United States and China is vital to get right. We must avoid falling into the trap of zero-sum competition. We need to forge a mutually beneficial relationship based on common interests.

I won’t speak at length about the long list of issues we have to work on: advancing human rights, ensuring peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, managing trade disputes, and protecting the environment, to name a few. 

Instead let me just make two overarching points. First, with its new-found economic clout, China needs to do more than just abide by international norms, although that is important.  We need China to contribute to strengthening the international system that has helped it prosper.  Beijing has to step up and shoulder more of the responsibility that comes with its growing power. 

In the area of non-proliferation, for example, we need China not only to enforce UN sanctions and abide by Nuclear Supplier Group guidelines, but also be a full partner in efforts to secure a diplomatic solution to the nuclear weapons threats posed by Iran and North Korea. 

Convincing China that its own interests will be served by taking on more responsibility for strengthening the international system will be one of Secretary Locke’s most important tasks as our ambassador. It won’t be easy. Even though China may have some of the hallmarks of a great power, it’s leaders remain focused more on meeting their domestic challenges than taking on new international obligations. 

This brings me to my second point. Although China has a rich and influential culture, global trading networks, and the world’s second largest economy, it lags behind many states in its respect for basic human rights. In recent months, China’s government has intensified efforts to control access to information, restrict freedom of speech and assembly, and interfere in the peaceful practice of religion. 

This crackdown is a violation of universal rights – rights specifically guaranteed under Chinese law – and is ultimately contrary to the best interests of China’s government. As Premier Wen Jia-bao himself pointed out last October, “the people's wishes and need for democracy and freedom are irresistible.” 

Some say that China is not ready for more democracy and freedom. Premier Wen had a rejoinder ready. He said: "Freedom of speech is indispensable for any country; a country in the course of development and in a country that has become strong." Premier Wen is right about this, but it is clear that many in China continue to see things differently.

Greater tolerance for dissent would help China produce better results across a range of government and private sector activities. Effectively integrating our concern for human rights into every facet of our relationship would be one of our new ambassador’s most important, and most daunting, challenges. 

If confirmed, Secretary Locke will be responsible for helping build the kind of candid and cooperative partnership that is essential for both countries. 

I believe the President has made a wise choice in nominating you, and I look forward to your testimony.

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