Who is he?
Max Baucus is currently a United States Senator from Montana, a position he has served in since 1978. Senator Baucus is chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. Before his election to the U.S. Senate, Baucus was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1975 to 1978. He served in the Montana House of Representatives from 1973 to 1974.
Why is he in the news?
On December 20, President Barack Obama announced his intent to nominate Senator Baucus as U.S. ambassador to the People’s Republic of China. The Senate and China analysts alike welcomed Senator Baucus’ nomination, with both Republican and Democratic senators expressing confidence that he will easily obtain confirmation. Although he does not speak Chinese, Senator Baucus traveled to China eight times and met President Xi Jinping while in office, played a role in establishing normal trade relations with China, and has been a member and former chair (2001 – 2002) of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) since 2001.
Speaking at his Senate confirmation hearing on January 28, Senator Baucus said, “I have become a firm believer that a strong geopolitical relationship can be born out of a strong economic relationship, which often begins with trade.” His responses to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee demonstrated a pragmatic approach to U.S.-China relations. Describing China’s ADIZ declaration as “unfortunate,” Senator Baucus explained that he would encourage all sides to work together “to manage and resolve sovereignty disputes without coercion or use of force.” When pushed on China’s human rights record, Senator Baucus labeled the issue as “extremely important,” saying he would seek an “effective” avenue for human rights promotion.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is expected to bring his nomination to the Senate floor the week of February 3 for confirmation.
What can we expect from him?
Expect to see a renewed focus on the economic partnership between the United States and China. Senator Baucus has overseen numerous free trade agreements during his tenure as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and was instrumental in bringing China into the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2001. President Obama cited Senator Baucus’ experience on economic issues and record on job creation as a core reason for his nomination.
Senator Baucus does not have a record on security issues and is unlikely to take a lead role in this area; rather he will build a stronger U.S.-China relationship through shared economic interests. In the past, Senator Baucus has addressed trade issues, such as China’s currency manipulation and the need for stronger intellectual property protections, while also supporting greater international trade with China.
Baucus’ economic experience could pair nicely with Xi Jinping’s economic-focused reform agenda from the Third Plenum of the 18th Central Committee, which reaffirmed the importance of the public sector in the economy, recommended expanding the market’s role in allocating resources, and encouraged greater liberalization in the financial sector.