Nominee for Ambassador to China: “I’m no real expert on China”

max baucus chinaIt’s one thing when the nominee to be Ambassador to Norway is a little out of his depth on Norway. But China? Bigger f’in deal.

Retiring Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), known more for his expertise on tax policy than foreign policy and the president’s choice for Ambassador to China, made a candid admission Tuesday morning during his testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Asked by Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.) for his opinion of why China established an air defense zone in a territorial dispute with Japan, Baucus declined to get into details.

“Senator, I am no real expert on China, but it’s my strong belief that the Chinese people are just as proud as we Americans are proud, and I think, unfortunately, the Chinese leadership has taken advantage of that pride to test America in the South China Sea, or the East China Sea, and it means we’ve got to stand up,” Baucus said. “It’s the whole thing of life, ‘fair but firm.'”

Baucus is chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and vice chairman of the Joint Committee on Taxation. He also serves on the Senate Agriculture and Environment Committees, and is slated to step down at the end of his current term after the 2014 elections. Absent a foreign relations assignment, President Obama still praised Baucus as “perfectly suited” to be Ambassador to China in announcing the nomination.

“For more than two decades Max Baucus has worked to deepen the relationship between the United States and China. The economic agreements he helped forge have created millions of American jobs and added billions of dollars to our economy.”

With today’s nomination hearing in mind, Ed Morrissey (to whom goes the hat tip) pointed out the electoral implications of Baucus’ assignment:

To say that this is an important diplomatic posting with a deep need for expertise in the issues involved is to offer a dramatic understatement. Yet the White House has nominated someone who apparently knows little about those issues. Why? Democrats wanted Gov. Steve Bullock to appoint a Democrat in Baucus’ place in order to get a leg up in the 2014 midterm race in what was going to be an open seat. Baucus got the appointment to get him out of the Senate now, rather than at the end of the session.

Bullock is a Democrat.

Watch a brief clip of Johnson and Baucus’ exchange below, and go to the 1 hour, 20 minute mark here for the full back and forth.