U.S. Ambassador Locke meets the Beijing press corps.
BEIJING—The new U.S. ambassador to China made waves even before he landed on these shores.
Over the weekend, Gary Locke--the former U.S. Commerce Secretary and Governor of Washington--was photographed by a Chinese tech entrepreneur who spotted our new envoy at a Starbucks in the Seattle airport.
Locke, sporting a backpack and accompanied only by one of his three children, was buying coffee.
Within hours, the photograph was uploaded onto the entrepreneur’s Sina Weibo page and then re-posted 28,000 times. The buzz?
The fact that Locke was unencumbered by an entourage and paying for his own coffee.
“In China, even a low-level official uses police to open up the road for them when they go out. Learn from America!” said one netizen in comments about the Locke photo on iFeng.com.
“We are so used to Chinese officials’ privileges that we’re now not used to Gary Locke’s normal behavior,” wrote another.
Others were more taken aback with the fact that Locke had initially tried to use a discount voucher to pay for his coffee and joked that America must be really poor for a government official to need to use a coupon.
With the previous U.S. ambassador Jon Huntsman, the Chinese were treated to—for them--unusual displays of the common touch. Like another American envoy of another era, Huntsman was frequently seen riding his bicycle alone around the capital during his short stint in China.
But what no other previous American envoy to China has had to contend with is their loyalty.
Although most news outlets covering Locke’s debut as ambassador focused on his comments that America is “committed to getting our fiscal house in order” and that the Chinese government’s U.S. dollar investments are safe, the majority also underscored the fact that he’s the first Chinese-American to ever hold this post.
Locke himself raised the point in his prepared remarks:
“…I am both humbled and honored to stand here before you as a child of Chinese immigrants representing America, the land of my birth, and the American values my family holds dear. I can only imagine just how proud my dad, Jimmy, who passed away in January, would be for his son to be the first Chinese-American to represent the United States in the land of his and my mother’s birth. My parents, my wife, our children – we all personally represent America and America’s promise as a land of freedom, equality, and opportunity.”
The new U.S. ambassador to China and his family.
That Locke is here to represent the U.S. government was asserted repeatedly during his interaction with the Beijing press corps—suggesting that his audience in China should be wary of confusing his ethnicity with his nationality.
After all, this is a country where ethnic Chinese are often considered Chinese first and foremost--no matter where they were born or raised. (In fact, your correspondent has lost count how many times the question of "loyalty to the motherland" comes up at sensitive times dealing with government officials.)
Locke’s status as an ABC (American-born Chinese) could add an interesting dimension to his posting, but let’s just hope it doesn’t detract from the real work that needs to be done between Washington and Beijing.