Updated: 01/29/2014 02:15 | By Agence France-Presse

US envoy nominee to counsel caution to China, Japan

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

US envoy nominee to counsel caution to China, Japan

US Senator Max Baucus testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for his confirmation to become the next US ambassdor to China on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on January 28, 2014 - by Nicholas Kamm

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 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 US 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 meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, a conservative 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 and said that its maritime moves "could lead to another Guns of August," a reference to the events that triggered World War I a century ago.

"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.

Pressing 'rules' on trade and human rights

Despite his critique, McCain joined other Republicans in supporting the confirmation of Baucus who is virtually certain to succeed Gary Locke, the former Washington governor who is the first Chinese American to be US ambassador to Beijing.

Baucus distanced himself from President Xi Jinping's frequent calls for China and the United States to develop a "new type of major-power relationship." President Barack Obama's administration had initially welcomed Xi's theme, which some US experts saw as innocuous and vague but others viewed with suspicion.

Under questioning, Baucus said that the United States "should be very wary" of Xi's new relationship model which "is not an approach that makes sense to me."

"It's frankly one that suggests that China take care of its own issues in China, whether it's the human rights issues, or whether it's Taiwan" or islands contested with Japan, Baucus said.

Baucus said he considered human rights, including treatment of minorities, "extremely important." On an earlier trip to China, Baucus said he pressed then president Jiang Zemin to release a Tibetan activist who was freed weeks later.

But Baucus was non-committal on Republican calls to visit an unauthorized church, saying his main priority was to find an "effective" way to champion human rights.

Baucus, who has represented the ranching state of Montana in the Senate since 1978, is most associated on the international stage with advocating free trade agreements and pressing to remove restrictions on US beef.

Baucus said he would work to achieve "concrete results" on trade concerns, including greater protection by China of the intellectual property rights of US companies.

"China must be fully invested in the global rules-based economic system," Baucus said.

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