Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) told lawmakers Tuesday that he is not an expert on China.
"I'm no real expert on China," Baucus, President Obama's nominee to serve as U.S. ambassador to China, said in response to a question from Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.).
But a Baucus aide argued that the long-time senator was merely being humble about his knowledge.
"Humility is the Montana way, and that’s an asset in diplomacy too," said Baucus spokesman Sean Neary in an email.
The Montana Democrat said that while he wasn't an expert on China, "it is my strong belief that the Chinese people are just as proud as we Americans are proud."
He told the Senate Foreign Relations panel that the Chinese leadership is taking advantage of that pride to test America in the East China Sea.
"I can't really tell you the motivation of Chinese leadership but the approach that we should take is constructive engagement, talking but standing up, grounded in reality," he said.
Baucus is expected to easily win confirmation as ambassador. Aside from the expert gaffe and a few tough questions from Arizona GOP Sen. John McCain, Baucus essentially breezed through Tuesday's hearing. A vote is expected on Feb. 4.
—This post was updated at 4:15 p.m.