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For China, a new year and a new U.S. ambassador

Photo: U.S. Senator Max Baucus (D-MT) testifies during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee January 28, 2014 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Senator Baucus, who was nominated by President Barack Obama, will become the next U.S. ambassador to China.

Back in the late 90s when ambassador Baucus was Senator Baucus, he traveled to China to promote the country’s inclusion in the World Trade Organization. More than a decade later, China’s a WTO member, Baucus is ambassador, and according to one former U.S. diplomat in China, he’ll have a lot on his plate - including a chill in relations between U.S. businesses and the Chinese government. "These will be trying times for ambassador Baucus," says William McCahill, who served as charge d'affaires at the U.S. embassy in Beijing. "Prominent firms have pulled out of China, in some measures because the Chinese haven’t lived up to the commitments they made when they joined the WTO."

McCahill says Baucus was a great choice for ambassador because he'll engage the Chinese on sensitive issues and because of his experience in the U.S. senate, where many decisions on foreign affairs are debated. On the Chinese side, Fudan University’s Shen Dingli says the Chinese will watch Baucus closely, but he doesn’t think the ambassador will be able to influence relations in a meaningful way between the world’s top two economies. "He’s just a machine - a tool," says Shen. "I think we really should not expect anything from any ambassador from both countries."

Whatever people’s expectations for Ambassador Baucus, he IS expected to move to Beijing later this month.

About the author

Rob Schmitz is Marketplace’s China correspondent in Shanghai.

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