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Report: Biden considering Pete Buttigieg for China ambassador

Pete Buttigieg. (Gage Skidmore/Flickr)
December 09, 2020

Joe Biden is considering former South Bend, Ind. Mayor and Afghan war veteran Pete Buttigieg for a high-profile ambassadorship such as China, according to people familiar with the discussions who spoke with Axios this week.

According to Axios, Buttigieg has expressed interest in foreign policy or national security posts. He is also under consideration for domestic Transportation or Commerce roles after Biden passed over Buttigieg for ambassador to the United Nations, and talks of heading the Department of Veterans Affairs have also not progressed.

The U.S. ambassadorship to China has typically been a role that has gone to experienced politicians toward the middle or end of their career, Axios reported, but naming Buttigieg, 38, may be an effort to build up his foreign policy experience. In 1974, then-President Gerald Ford similarly nominated George H.W. Bush to the U.S. liaison office in Beijing. Bush went on to serve as the vice president in the next Republican administration and then as president.

Buttigieg also ran as a Democratic candidate in the 2020 party primaries, but dropped out of the race and endorsed Biden ahead of the critical Super Tuesday primary vote.

Biden has previously shown favor towards Buttigieg. At one point, Biden said, “I don’t think I’ve ever done this before, but [Buttigieg] reminds me of my son Beau. I know that may not mean much to most people, but, to me, it’s the highest compliment I can give any man or woman.”

While some of the sources familiar with the discussions believe Buttigieg may be chosen as the ambassador to China, some of Buttigieg’s backers told Axios they believe there could be an upside for Buttigieg if he is chosen for a domestic Cabinet position that can allow him to build his relationships with black voters, a demographic Buttigieg struggled with during the election.

Axios reported there’s also some concern Buttigieg could be left out of the first string of picks to serve in a Biden administration entirely. Biden has focused largely on choosing women and people of color for potential administration roles.

Biden’s pick to serve as an ambassador to China could significantly influence future U.S.-China relations. Tensions have risen with China throughout President Donald Trump’s term, and over the summer the U.S. ordered the Chinese Consulate in Houston, Texas closed over concerns of spying and intellectual property theft. China, in turn, ordered the U.S. Consulate in Chengdu to close. Amid the China tensions, the Trump administration has also added sanctions to China and increasingly interacted with Taiwan, which has been a sovereign nation for decades, but mainland China claims as part of its territory.

Despite the tensions between China and the U.S. during the Trump administration, Buttigieg wrote in a May Washington Post op-ed that Trump is “China’s dream candidate.” At the time, Buttigieg wrote that Trump was trying to miscast Biden as China’s preferred candidate but wrote China “would be more than happy to deal with him for four more years. In his first term, the president hasn’t brought China to its knees: He’s made it stronger.”

An August U.S. intelligence report released by the U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) said, “We assess that China prefers that President Trump – whom Beijing sees as unpredictable – does not win reelection. China has been expanding its influence efforts ahead of November 2020 to shape the policy environment in the United States, pressure political figures it views as opposed to China’s interests, and deflect and counter criticism of China.”