The Senate on Wednesday unanimously confirmed outgoing Commerce Secretary Gary Locke as the next U.S. ambassador to China, making him the first Chinese-American to assume that post.

Locke replaces Republican Jon Huntsman, who left the China post to enter the 2012 presidential race.

He will arrive in Beijing at a delicate time in U.S.-China relations. The two countries only recently resumed military ties after a period of tension; China cut off most contact with the Pentagon last year after the United States sold arms to Taiwan and President Obama met with the Dalai Lama.

Yet even as they have become more competitive militarily and diplomatically, the United States and China are in some ways more intertwined than ever. China is the largest foreign holder of U.S. debt — a fact that now has China nervously watching the roiling debt ceiling debate in Washington.

Locke became the first Chinese-American governor during his rise to prominence in Washington state. His visibility and expertise in global trade has helped him nurture ties in the Chinese business world.

During his confirmation hearing in May, Locke received a largely friendly welcome from senators.

At the time, he told the Foreign Relations Committee that he would press the Chinese for market and legal reforms, saying they were in their own best interests. He also expressed concerns about human rights violations, noting China’s recent crackdown on journalists, activists and lawyers.