US Ambassador to China to step down

By Zhang Yiwei Source:Global Times Published: 2013-11-21 1:13:01

Related report: Locke controversy stems from Chinese expectation

Gary Locke, the first American of Chinese descent to head the US Embassy in Beijing and who sparked intensive controversy during his two-and-half-year tenure, will step down as ambassador in early 2014, the embassy said in a statement Wednesday.

Locke's departure will leave a temporary vacancy in Beijing when the world's two largest economies must navigate what Chinese President Xi Jinping has called a "new major power relationship," once again triggering heated debate on the American values Locke stands for at a time when China is going through major social and economic transformation.

Locke, ambassador from August, 2011, said in the statement that he informed the US President Barack Obama of his decision to rejoin his family in Seattle when he met with Obama earlier this month. He later told the LA Times that his reasons were purely personal.

As the first Chinese American ambassador to China, Locke drew huge attention when he and his family first arrived in Beijing. They impressed Chinese people by presenting an image of an ordinary family, carrying their luggage on their own without any attendants.

Amid the applause Locke won from the public praising his style, heated debates stirred as adverse voices arose saying Locke making a show was an American plot to stir citizens' resentment of their own leaders.

"His man-of-the-people show has been boosted by the media, but they forget he's here to sell American values," Wu Danhong, an assistant professor at the China University of Political Science and Law, told the Global Times, saying that people should not be deluded by the label of "ethnic Chinese."

Locke has engaged in public opinion disputes, faced with the strategic bilateral relationship between the two countries and the fact that Chinese society is undergoing a transformation, Lu Shiwei, a senior research fellow with Institute of Modern International Relations of Tsinghua University, told the Global Times.

"As China is developing rapidly and the US has been suffering a financial crisis, America takes a strategy of keeping an eye on the Asia-Pacific region and expanding investment into it to boost its influence and position," Lu said. "America has an agenda to let China develop in the direction that America wants, and an important tool is to use soft power."

He noted that Locke served at a time of commonly sparked conflicts in China-US relations, while public opinion has diversified.

During his tenure, Locke pushed for the US Embassy to publicize the readings of PM2.5 levels in Beijing, triggering huge discussion on China's air pollution.

Locke also paid rare diplomatic visits to regions in and around the Tibet Autonomous Region, as well as to Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, and managed cases like Chen Guangcheng, who in 2012 entered the US Embassy and secured a visa to travel to New York.

The handling of Chen's case later overshadowed high-level US-Chinese foreign policy and economic talks.

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