Obama taps Locke as China envoy

President Obama on Wednesday nominated Commerce Secretary Gary Locke to be the next U.S. ambassador to China.

With outgoing ambassador Jon Huntsman eyeing a challenge to Obama in 2012, the president tapped Locke, a Chinese-American and former governor of Washington state, to be the envoy there, as expected.

In announcing the nomination in the White House Diplomatic Room, flanked by Locke, Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonConstitutional amendment could vastly improve campaign finance The Hill's Whip List: Who to watch on GOP's new ObamaCare bill The US should give peace a chance when it comes to North Korea MORE and National Security Adviser Tom Donilon, Obama praised Locke as someone who would help advance American business interests in China.

The president and Locke noted that Locke's grandfather immigrated to the U.S. more than 100 years ago, and worked as a houseboy for a family in Washington state in exchange for English lessons.

"A century later his grandson will return to China as America's top diplomat," Obama said.

The president praised Locke's contributions as Commerce secretary, saying he served as the "point person" for the administration’s national export initiative and helped oversee recent trade deals with China that added 235,000 U.S. jobs.

Obama also credited Locke for conducting the Census "on time and under budget ... returning $2 billion to American taxpayers."