'I Take My Hat Off to China': Obama's China Ambassador Praises Chinese Response to Virus

March 24, 2020

Former president Barack Obama's China ambassador Max Baucus, who established extensive business ties with China after leaving the ambassadorship in 2017, extolled China's government on Tuesday for the way the country has responded to the coronavirus outbreak.

"I think that the big lesson here [is] that when you take charge and when you tell the entire country, Wuhan, other provinces what to do, they get in gear and get the job done," Baucus said during an interview on MSNBC. "I take my hat off to China for doing so."

The former Montana senator's praise of China comes amid a propaganda campaign waged by China's state-run media outlets, which have been pushing the narrative that China isn't responsible for the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. They have attempted to deflect blame by saying President Donald Trump's insistence on identifying China as the origin of the virus is politically motivated.

Now primarily focused on the business world, Baucus has leaned on his government work with China. The University of Montana's Baucus Institute sponsors the school's study abroad program in China, which is focused on understanding the Chinese business environment. Baucus Group LLC, the consulting group the former senator founded after he was removed from his ambassadorship in 2017, "provides consulting services to American and Chinese businesses," according to his official biography.

Baucus also now sits on the board of advisers for the Alibaba Group, one of the largest tech companies in China. He is on the board of directors for Ingram Micro, which was purchased by a Chinese company for $6 billion in 2016.

HNA Group, the company that purchased it, is now on the verge of being taken over by the Chinese government due to economic problems caused by the coronavirus, which would effectively make Ingram Micro a state-owned enterprise. Ingram Micro insists that it operates as a "separate standalone company" and will continue to operate that way.

The U.S. Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States and the U.S. Department of Defense had to approve the initial sale to HNA, and they continue to monitor its board composition, as well as whether the company maintains independence from its Chinese owners. It remains unclear how a government takeover would impact Ingram Micro and its corporate structure.

On Tuesday, Baucus acknowledged that the Chinese government was "authoritarian" but claimed that the people "to a large degree accept that." He said that includes the "social credit" system, in which the Chinese Communist Party punishes and rewards citizens according to how well they serve the party's overarching goals. Dissidents and critics of China have condemned the social credit system as a scheme to restrict human rights.

"My experience serving over there—the government will do all it can to help people because that determines the government's legitimacy," Baucus said. "If the people basically think that the government is doing a pretty good job, then the government can stay in charge."