By Anne E. Kornblut and Ed O'Keefe
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, March 7, 2011; 11:59 PM
President Obama will nominate Commerce Secretary Gary Locke as the next U.S. ambassador to China, senior administration officials said late Monday, continuing a game of musical chairs that has shuffled top administration officials at the start of the second half of Obama's term.
A formal announcement is planned for Tuesday in the Diplomatic Reception Room.
Huntsman, a Republican, was considered a strong ambassador in one of the most strategically important capitals in the world, with his mix of fluency in Chinese and extensive knowledge about the region. He plans to depart Beijing in April.
Although Locke has not emerged as a star in the Obama orbit, he is Chinese American and well-regarded in the Chinese business community. He was Obama's third choice for the Commerce position, after the nomination of Bill Richardson was pulled over ethics concerns and Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) withdrew over policy disagreements.
Locke joined the administration after serving as Washington state's governor, in the process becoming the first Chinese American elected governor of any state. In that job, he worked to establish strong ties with Chinese business interests, and he knows many top officials in that country, especially in government circles.
If confirmed by the Senate, Locke would become the first Cabinet secretary to leave his post.
His brief leadership of the Commerce Department, with its disparate 12 bureaus, will perhaps be remembered best for the successful completion of the 2010 Census. The constitutionally-mandated headcount came in under-budget and with relatively few management concerns, successes Locke's closest aides credited to the secretary holding regular operational meetings in its final months.
A senior administration official said no potential successors for Locke at Commerce were yet being considered; the administration still lacks a nominee to serve as the department's deputy secretary, the source said.
"This is about replacing Jon Huntsman, this isn't about replacing Gary Locke," said the official, who was not authorized to speak for the record.
Nor did the administration's forthcoming plans to reorganize how the government handles international trade issues - much of which lies within the Commerce Department - have any bearing on the decision, the source said.