US Senate approves nomination of Baucus as ambassador to China

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - The US Senate voted unanimously on Thursday to approve President Barack Obama's nomination of Senator Max Baucus, who has helped steer trade policy with China, as ambassador to Beijing.

The Senate voted 96-0, with Mr Baucus voting present, to confirm the 72-year-old Montana Democrat to the high-profile appointment. Mr Baucus holds one of the most powerful positions in the Senate as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, which oversees tax and trade policy.

He has little direct experience with the security and military issues that are a growing concern in US relations with China. Montana Governor Steve Bullock has not yet said whom he will appoint a temporary successor to fill Baucus' seat until his term expires in January 2015. Since Bullock is also a Democrat, the appointment is not expected to shift the balance of power in the Senate, where Democrats control 55 of the 100 seats.

During Baucus' confirmation hearing last week, senators expressed concerns about China's territorial ambitions and urged Baucus to take a tough line with Beijing. Baucus said he would be "fair, but firm." Baucus, seen as a moderate Democrat, had announced his intention to retire from the Senate at the end of 2014 well before Obama nominated him for the Beijing post last month.

He succeeds Gary Locke, who served as Obama's secretary of commerce before becoming the US envoy in Beijing.