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China ties make Locke good pick for US Commerce

WASHINGTON, Feb 24 (Reuters) - Former Washington state Governor Gary Locke, the son of Chinese immigrants with expertise in working with Beijing, is a good choice for commerce secretary at a time when cooperation between the two countries is key to global growth, the head of a U.S.-China business group said on Tuesday.

“He’s well regarded in China and I think he’s somebody they would listen to,” John Frisbie, president of the U.S.-China Business Council, told Reuters.

President Barack Obama is expected to announce on Wednesday that he is nominating Locke to be commerce secretary after his two previous nominees withdrew.

Locke was the first Chinese American governor in U.S. history. During his two terms as governor from 1997 through 2004 he led eight trade missions to China and opened a Washington state trade office in Guangzhou.

Locke first met Chinese President Hu Jintao on those trips and later helped plan and coordinate Hu’s September 2005 visit to Washington state.

Those relationships would be an asset for the Obama administration, which has signaled it wants to work with China to keep trade frictions in check and address global environmental and energy concerns, Frisbie said.

Locke is now a partner in the Seattle office of law firm Davis Wright Termaine, where he specializes in China, energy and government relations issues. He is also a member of the Committee of 100, a group of Chinese Americans who encourage strong ties between the United States and China.

Washington state is home to software giant Microsoft and aircraft manufacturer Boeing’s main production facilities, as well as international coffee purveyor Starbucks.

Thea Lee, policy director for the 11-million-member AFL-CIO labor federation, said her group also liked Locke.

“He has a great relationship with the Washington state unions. He has a good understanding of the need to both promote exports, which is enormously important, and to make sure our trade laws are respected,” Lee said.

The AFL-CIO also hopes Locke, if Barack does pick him to be commerce secretary, would help elevate the importance of worker rights in trade talks with China.

“We do believe this needs to be put back into the centerstage,” Lee said. “We would certainly expect the Commerce secretary to be an ally on this issue.”

Reporting by Doug Palmer; editing by Cynthia Osterman