Locke controversy stems from Chinese expectation

By Shan Renping Source:Global Times Published: 2013-11-21 0:43:01

Related report: US Ambassador to China to step down

US Ambassador to China Gary Locke said Wednesday he will step down early next year to rejoin his family. His abrupt decision to leave the post stirred up various assumptions.

Locke, as the first Chinese American to hold the post, received unprecedented attention from the Chinese media compared to his predecessors during his past two-and-a-half years on the job. Many details about Locke were exposed due to the deluge of attention on him, arousing varied interpretations and opinions after being magnified on the Internet.

Looking back, Locke is a "normal" US Ambassador to China. The unusual stand and image of him in the eyes of Chinese public in fact stem from Chinese expectations. Chinese public opinion should become more mature after taking a close look at Locke for over two years. The Chinese public needs to deepen their understanding of national interests. Locke's Chinese American identity and affable face made some take him as "Chinese." However, he soon displayed his loyalty to US national interests.   

There are incidents such as former Chongqing's police chief Wang Lijun and blind activist Chen Guangcheng fleeing to the American Consulate and US Embassy. But Sino-US ties kept their forward momentum while he was in office. It is time when high-level visits took place and the two countries started discussing "a new type of major power relationship." Locke stressed that he reduced the waiting time for Chinese visa applicants. Chinese people visiting the US and US export to China both witnessed growth. In general, from the perspective of both the US and China, Locke's performance shouldn't be given a low mark.

But he also caused controversy as details of his work and life were exposed in the Chinese media several times. It was also under his charge that PM 2.5 data monitored within the US Embassy was openly released to the Chinese public, causing a sensation. The related coverage, while showering admiration on the US Embassy and Locke himself, channeled discontent toward certain parts of domestic governance.

Locke and the US Embassy caused some awkward situations for China. But they also have become part of the reasons to drive China to reform. Locke has made us fully aware how easily American elements could affect China's grass-roots society and how easily China's internal problems could be politicized in light of a big gap between Chinese and American soft power.

In the Internet era, it's hard to distinguish whether online politics was spontaneous or seduced by the US. The answer to this question doesn't matter that much, since it's impossible to prevent the US Embassy from affecting China's online community. What China should do is to focus on solving its own problems. 

We may have no reason to blame Locke. Against the backdrop of China's fast progress, the controversy soon turned into a fleeting episode.

Posted in: Observer

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