The attention Gary Locke has received as the new US ambassador to China is far more than his role deserves. Besides his attitude toward many aspects of the bilateral relationship, his personal life has aroused fierce discussion among the Chinese public. He flew economy class, carries a backpack and buys coffee with discount vouchers. His normal image has won him praise from some Chinese media.
It is reminiscent of the discussion over US Vice President Joe Biden dining in a cheap restaurant in Beijing. Some Chinese media's expectations of their officials shine through in these comments.
It would not be bad if these actions were covered by the media, whilst keeping a level head. It loses value when Locke's every move is packaged by the media as being part of the class of US officials. Some journalists like to romanticize what they see out of a lack of knowledge and may hold Locke up as a mirror for Chinese officials.
Locke is not supposed to have a large number of guards as an ambassador to China. And it costs much more in security for Biden to eat a bowl of noodles in a street restaurant than for him to dine at Diaoyutai State Guesthouse.
No Chinese ambassadors to other countries would have many attendants and, globally speaking, all visitors of Biden's level may enjoy the opportunity to enter smaller restaurants.
It is bizarre and twisted to regard these acts as evidence of cleanness in US politics.
It is true that some Chinese officials like to have many attendants crowding round them, which gives some commentators the chance to compare them unfavorably to people such as Locke.
It is unbelievable that Locke's casual stroll through hutongs with his family could win so much praise. The fact is, innumerable high officials, whether in the US or in China, would enjoy the same activity.
Chinese media has its problems. But Locke himself should have purposely avoided being treated as a mirror. Locke cooperated well with the media, consciously or unconsciously. It might be his individual preference or his new mission at work.
He enjoys the fact that his acts are praised by Chinese media, even though he knows he is not as plain as described.
A US ambassador should devote himself to the relationship between China and the US rather than play a role in Chinese media. A US ambassador becoming a political star in China cannot be interpreted as US respect for China.
Media that actively sensationalize Locke should show restraint. There are too many occasions and angles to criticize the corruption and bureaucracy in Chinese official circles. It is not suitable to overly praise a foreign ambassador, particularly when his task in China is rather complicated. Chinese media should be calm and rational when discussing the private lives of people like Locke.
We hope Locke does his job as a US ambassador to China. Neither he nor the media should confuse his role here.