U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke spoke during a visit to China last year. (Jason Lee / Reuters )
Reporting from Washington — President Obama announced Wednesday that he is nominating Commerce Secretary Gary Locke as the first Chinese American to serve as ambassador to China.
In a morning appearance at the White House, Obama told reporters that he was choosing Locke to replace Republican Jon Huntsman. Huntsman is stepping down from the position, possibly to run for president.
In naming Locke to replace him, Obama praised his work at the Commerce Department and predicted that he will strengthen a relationship critical to U.S. interests.
During his tenure Locke has "doubled exports to China," Obama said, "and I have asked him to continue that as ambassador, advocating for American businesses all over the world."
Locke's grandfather came to the U.S. from China to work a century ago, but returned to China to marry and have a family. Locke's father and mother later immigrated to Washington state, where their son would eventually be elected governor, twice.
"I'm going back to the birthplace of my grandfather, father, my mother and her side of the family," Locke said this morning. "I’ll be doing so as a passionate advocate," he said, "eager to continue that work in China and to help you, Mr. President, manage one of America’s most important" relationships.
Huntsman, 50, said in January that he was stepping down at of the end of April. A charismatic former governor of Utah, he is considered a possible candidate for the Republican nomination for president.
In Wednesday morning's announcement, Obama praised Huntsman's work and thanked him for strengthening American relations with China.