BEIJING (Reuters) - China Thursday presented open arms to U.S. President Barack Obama's nomination of Commerce Secretary Gary Locke as the new ambassador to China, as the two countries try to strengthen their ties and nurture more mutual trust.
The world's two biggest economies have been seeking to steady ties after a year that exposed strains over human rights, Taiwan, Tibet and the gaping U.S. trade deficit with China.
Locke, who has criticized China for its trade practices and resistance to opening its markets, would be the first Chinese-American to fill the post if he is confirmed by the U.S. Senate.
"China welcomes the nomination of Gary Locke as ambassador to China," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu told reporters at a regular press briefing.
"China-U.S. relations are extremely important. We hope that the new ambassador appointed by the U.S. can play an active role in promoting China-U.S. relations toward greater developments," Jiang said. She did not elaborate.
Locke is also the former governor of Washington state, which enjoys close economic ties with China due to major corporate residents such as Microsoft Corp. and Boeing Co..
The current U.S. ambassador to China, Jon Huntsman, will step down on April 30, and is considering joining the ranks of other Republican prospects hoping to challenge Obama in the 2012 election.
Jiang's comments were China's first official mention of Locke's nomination after the White House's formal announcement Wednesday, but state media played the news prominently earlier in the week when the possible appointment was first reported.
A commentary in Thursday's English-language edition of the Global Times, a popular Chinese tabloid run by the Communist Party's official newspaper, said that a Chinese-American ambassador would "not necessarily be friendly to China" but could help the United States understand Chinese traditions and policies.
In China, Locke is Washington state's second most prominent product, behind the movie, "Sleepless in Seattle," the Global Times said in its Wednesday edition.
Locke's grandfather emigrated to the United States more than 100 years ago.
"I'm going back to the birthplace of my grandfather, my father, my mom and her side of the family, and I'll be doing so as a devoted and passionate advocate for America, the country where I was born and raised," Locke said this week.
(Reporting by Michael Martina; Editing by Ken Wills and Yoko Nishikawa)