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May 29, 2017

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US China envoy nominee calls for caution

WASHINGTON--Senator Max Baucus, tapped to be U.S. ambassador to China, called Tuesday on all nations including Japan to exercise caution over territorial rows that he warned could flare into conflict.

In a confirmation hearing before fellow senators, the veteran Democratic Party politician repeatedly said he would encourage China to abide by "international rules" but portrayed himself as a pragmatist whose views of the growing Asian power would be "grounded in reality."

Baucus said that China's sudden imposition in November of an Air Defense Identification Zone in the East China Sea — which asks planes to report to Beijing when flying over islands administered by U.S. ally Japan — was "unfortunate." He vowed to raise the issue "to discourage other potential actions that China may take."

But Baucus said that he used a recent visit to Japan, whose Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is known for his hard line on China, to "counsel caution, counsel reduced tension, counsel to back off here a little."

"Because otherwise we run the risk of a major dispute — a major problem — where if tensions are high there could be a miscalculation," Baucus told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Baucus said he would "stress that all sides must work together to manage and resolve sovereignty disputes without coercion or use of force."

Senator John McCain, a former Republican presidential candidate known for his hawkish views, attacked Baucus' understanding of China. McCain said that China's maritime moves "could lead to another Guns of August," a reference to the events that triggered World War I a century ago and which Abe also recently evoked.

"Their aggressive behavior — whether it be a mere collision with a United States ship or the imposition of the ADIZ, or whether it be many of the other actions they have taken — are part of a pattern of their ambition to dominate that part of the world," McCain said.

Baucus replied that he "largely" agreed with McCain's views on China and had "eyes wide open" but said it was critical to "try to find common ground" where possible.

The 72-year-old Baucus said that he has had a "fascination" with China dating back to university, when he spent a year backpacking around Asia. But he acknowledged to fellow senators, "I'm no real expert on China."

Pressing 'rules' on Trade and Human Rights

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