Baucus says he's 'no real expert on China'

Sen. Max BaucusMax Sieben BaucusBooker tries to find the right lane  Top Lobbyists 2017: Hired Guns GOP tries to keep spotlight on taxes amid Mueller charges MORE (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 JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonOvernight Cybersecurity: Panel pushes agencies on dropping Kaspersky software | NC county won't pay ransom to hackers | Lawmakers sound alarm over ISIS 'cyber caliphate' GOP chairman warns of ISIS's ‘cyber caliphate’ Overnight Finance: House approves motion to go to tax conference — with drama | GOP leaders to consider Dec. 30 spending bill | Justices skeptical of ban on sports betting | Mulvaney won't fire official who sued him MORE (R-Wis.).

ADVERTISEMENT
Baucus made the comment during his confirmation hearing after Johnson asked about China's decision to impose an air defense zone over international waters.

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 McCainJohn Sidney McCainGOP strategist donates to Alabama Democrat Meghan McCain knocks Bannon: 'Who the hell are you' to criticize Romney? Dems demand Tillerson end State hiring freeze, consult with Congress MORE, Baucus essentially breezed through Tuesday's hearing. A vote is expected on Feb. 4.

—This post was updated at 4:15 p.m.