Possible US ambassador to China draws public attention for being gay
Published: Dec 09, 2020 08:38 PM

Democratic presidential candidate, South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg speaks to supporters on Tuesday in Laconia, New Hampshire. Buttigieg holds a narrow lead over Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) in the Iowa Caucus after an app used by the state Democratic Party to count results caused overnight delays, according to published reports. Photo: AFP

Although US president-elect Joe Biden hasn't officially announced former Mayor Pete Buttigieg as new ambassador to China, media reports have been trending on Chinese social media, with part of the discussion centering on his political background, and the other on his homosexuality. 

The news was first reported by US news outlet Axios, citing sources familiar with the matter. Yet it hasn't been officially confirmed by Biden's office as of press time. 

Many in the Democratic Party believe that Buttigieg could return as a presidential candidate, the Axios report said, adding that a stint as ambassador in Beijing would give the Chinese people an opportunity to get to know a potential future president.

The news soon made waves on Chinese social media, with some doubting whether the 38-year-old, with little diplomatic experiences, could handle the world's most complicated bilateral relation. Some netizens were cautious, wondering if such a choice would try to alter Chinese perception of the LGBT community. 

"If he is chosen, I wonder how the media will introduce him and his partner," a netizen said. 

The Chinese LGBT community, however, dismissed such an intention. "If he is nominated, it will merely enhance the presence of the group, or even popularize the group," Peng Yanhui, director of Chinese NGO LGBT Rights Advocacy China, told the Global Times, noting he doesn't think the selection of Buttigieg will affect China's current policies on the LGBT group.

He joked that it is better LGBT groups have little bearing in the US, considering deteriorating China-US relations. 

Li Yinhe, a famous sexologist, previously conducted a survey which shows that the Chinese public's attitude towards the LGBT group is not as extreme as the US, which tends to have very polarized views on the group. 

China-US relation experts, however, said choosing Buttigieg, if confirmed, would be a "bold decision." "It is unlikely that choosing Buttigieg would change China's situation, but will rather be more like Biden diversifying his administration with people from all backgrounds," Zhang Tengjun, an assistant research fellow at the China Institute of International Studies, told the Global Times on Wednesday.

After his presidential bid faltered, Buttigieg became one of Biden's top advocates against Trump and he is favored within the Democratic Party, Zhang said. "Appointing him as Chinese ambassador may be Biden's way of raising the political of the 38-year-old politician, who has few experience on diplomacy," said Zhang. 

It could be Biden's way of winning over the Chinese public with the young politician's charisma, together with his diverse background, just like the first Chinese-American ambassador, Gary Locke, said Zhang. 

But experts noted that the Democrat's down-to-earth move won't work in today's China, where the Chinese people have seen too much, and are too familiar with American-style democracy. 

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