Commerce Secretary Gary Locke speaks with President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton looking on a ceremony announcing Mr. Locke's appointment as the next U.S. ambassador to China.

Coca-Cola Co. Chairman and CEO Muhtar Kent was among the chorus of business leaders who praised Commerce Secretary Gary Locke‘s appointment as the next U.S. ambassador to China Wednesday.

Mr. Locke will replace Jon Huntsman, a former Republican governor of Utah and a fluent Mandarin speaker who was appointed by President Obama. He is stepping down in April and reportedly hopes to challenge Mr. Obama in the 2012 presidential race.

Mr. Locke, a former Washington governor, is “ideally suited” for the position, given his experience and his success in recent negotiations with China on major economic issues, Mr. Kent said in a statement, speaking as chair of the US-China Business Council.

“Over the long run, innovation, economic growth and diplomatic harmony are most effectively achieved by free and fair trade and open dialogue,” Mr. Kent said. “For these reasons, we are extremely pleased to see Secretary Locke nominated for this role.”

As commerce secretary, Mr. Locke presided over the launch of the National Export Initiative, Mr. Obama’s effort to double U.S. exports and create 2 million jobs by 2014. Mr. Locke has traveled with companies on many trade missions around the world, including to China.

“When he’s in Beijing, I know that American companies will be able to count on him to represent their interests in front of China’s top leaders,” Mr. Obama said at a ceremony announcing the appointment.

U.S. exports to China were up 32 percent in 2010, but many large companies still complained of trade and investment barriers, currency manipulation and lax intellectual property protections in China.  

“As Commerce Secretary, I’ve helped open up foreign markets for American businesses so they can create more jobs right here in America,” he said at the ceremony. “And I’m eager to continue that work in China and to help you, Mr. President, manage one of America’s most critical and complex diplomatic, economic, and strategic relationships.”

Mr. Locke is the first Chinese-American to serve as the top U.S. diplomat in Beijing. His parents and grandfather were born in China. His grandfather first came to the U.S. to work as a houseboy in exchange for English lessons. His father immigrated to the U.S. as a teenager and enlisted in the military, eventually serving in World War II.

Mr. Obama said there is no timeline for naming a new commerce secretary, according to news reports. 

As managing editor of Global Atlanta, Trevor has spent 15+ years reporting on Atlanta’s ties with the world. An avid traveler, he has undertaken trips to 30+ countries to uncover stories on the perils...