China Backs Locke Vote

Official Chinese commentary says being U.S. envoy is 'no picnic.'

U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke (right) testifies during his Senate confirmation hearing in Washington, May 26, 2011.

China has thrown its approval behind the appointment of former U.S. commerce secretary Gary Locke as the next U.S. Ambassador to Beijing, but called on the U.S. to "do the right thing" for bilateral ties and end spy plane flights near its coastline.

"His appointment is expected to facilitate exchanges between China and the United States," the official Xinhua news agency said in a commentary on Thursday.

"During his previous roles as commerce secretary and governor of Washington state, Locke was noticeably successful in boosting trade and economic ties with China," the commentary said.

"In this sense, Locke, rich in political experience, is the right man for the job, as an ambassador's main task is to enhance bilateral ties."

Locke is the first Chinese American to hold the prestigious diplomatic post, which comes at a time of close, but often prickly ties between Beijing and Washington.

The bilateral relationship has been strained in recent months over Beijing's economic policies, growing military muscle, and repressive policies towards political dissent.

The Xinhua editorial said that differences between the two countries mean that the job "is no picnic."

"Locke is being given the herculean task of helping to reach more U.S.-China consensus and solve U.S.-China disputes," the commentary said.

Jasmine rallies

Locke will succeed Jon Huntsman in the post, who left the job to run for president against the man who hired him, Barack Obama.

Chinese officials had privately criticized Huntsman, who was spotted in a crowd at a pro-democracy gathering outside a McDonald's on Beijing's Wangfujing shopping street in February.

It was one of several designated sites for protests in online calls for a "Jasmine Revolution" inspired by the wave of popular uprisings sweeping the Middle East.

U.S. officials later said he accidentally came across the gathering while out shopping.

Nominating Locke on March 9, Obama said: "Our relationship with China is one of the most critical of the 21st century."

"As the grandson of a Chinese immigrant who went on to live the American dream, Gary is the right person to continue this cooperation," Obama said.

Concerned at China's current position as the U.S.' leading foreign creditor, politicians in Washington have become increasingly vocal in support of allowing China's currency, the yuan, to appreciate fully.

They say China is keeping the currency artificially low so as to boost its own exports and keep its economy moving.

Spy flights

But China hit back on Thursday with a strong call to the U.S. to halt spy-plane flights near its coastline.

Taiwan media reported two Chinese fighter jets attempted to scare off an American U2 reconnaissance plane that was collecting intelligence on China while flying along the Taiwan Strait in late June.

The reports said that one of the Chinese Sukhoi SU-27 fighters crossed over the Taiwan Strait's middle line, widely considered to be the boundary between Taiwan's airspace and that of the Chinese mainland.

The state-run Global Times newspaper quoted defense ministry officials as saying that the U.S. must end spy-plane flights, calling them a "major obstacle" as the two Pacific powers try to put a series of military disputes behind them.

"We demand that the U.S. respects China's sovereignty and security interests, and take concrete measures to boost a healthy and stable development of military relations," it added.

The flights "severely harmed" mutual trust, the paper quoted the ministry as saying.

However, Pentagon officials have said that no U.S. spy plane crossed into Chinese airspace.

In April 2001, a U.S. surveillance aircraft and a Chinese fighter jet collided in midair, killing a Chinese pilot and forcing the 24-member U.S. crew to make an emergency landing on China's Hainan island.

Reported by Luisetta Mudie.

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