Gary Locke speaks at his departure press conference. Photos: Rebecca Lin/sino-us.com
After a whole week of persistent smog, Beijing greeted blue sky on February 27, a day outgoing US envoy Gary Locke, who had pressured the Beijing administration for releasing PM2.5 data, chose for his departure press conference. He expressed his sense of optimism for what the future holds for America and China and also elaborated on some of his major achievements here in Beijing.
Locke said that he had been busy with saying goodbye to friends in China recently, and with his wife Mona Lee, they would aboard a plane on March 1 to rejoin his family in Seattle.
"We depart Beijing with a sense of achievement and a spirit of optimism of what the future holds for our two great countries," said Locke. He said he believed that the two countries' common interests would continue to outweigh the differences.
Locke also said the US welcomed the reforms recently announced at the Third Plenum by China's leaders like the economic reforms, Hukou reforms, land reforms and the changes to the one-child policy. Meanwhile, he was pleased to see the Chinese government is now committing to reform the rule of law system which in his belief, is essential for any successful country.
Ambassador Locke also suggested that China should extend more equable treatment to foreign journalists in China. "They should be given freedom of reporting honestly about both the good points and bad points about China, just as Chinese journalists enjoy these freedoms in our country."
Locke recalled a few measurable goals set when he first took the office back in 2011, which have helped the two countries come closer.
According to him, the first goal was to increase people-to-people exchanges between the US and China, and it's accomplished through the hard work of staff from the embassy and consulates.
"We revolutionized how we process visa applications and the average wait time for visa interview has been shortened from 70-100 days to 2-4 days. It is now much more convenient for Chinese citizens to visit the US whether for business, or study, or for travel," he said.
The second goal was to increase Chinese investment in America over the past two years.
"I've made a personal priority to expand Chinese investment in the US. I would remind would-be investors of the many opportunities that wait them in America and they are listening."
The amount of Chinese investment in America in the past two years has exceeded the sum of the previous 11 years, noted Locke.
The third point, according to him, was to focus on increasing exports of America-made goods and services to China that would benefit American workers back home.
He stressed American exports to China has grown at almost twice the rate of growth to the rest of the world.
For the fourth goal, Locke said China is now partnering with the US on a wide range of environmental challenges.
"Our Beijing embassy initially started the air-monitor program and then the practices spread to all our consulates", Locke said, adding that he believed it's his push that helped garner attention among Chinese people and government on the need to address this very serious issue.
And he noted the chronic problem in China underscores the necessity of working together on clean energy, energy efficiency and environmental solutions.
The fifth achievement, Locke said he had traveled a widespread area of Chinese mainland and interacted with Chinese people from all walks of lives. As he has previously mentioned, because Beijing could not represent China just as Washington DC could not represent the US, and he suggested his successor, Max Baucus to travel to different places of the big country for knowing it more thoroughly.
In the end, Locke, who is of Chinese descent, thanked for all the warmth Chinese people brought to his family and promised that, with his wife Mona Lee, they would continue to be involved in the two countries' positive relationship as private citizens.
A statesman of rock-star fame in China
There is no doubt that Gary Locke has become the most well-known US Ambassador to China among common Chinese people. Actually, when he announced to step down in November last year, thousands of Chinese netizens expressed their regrets over his departure through social media like Weibo.
The fact is, before Locke took the office in Beijing, he was already a famous person in China as a Chinese American who has achieved success in America by becoming a top statesman. "(I felt I was) walking with Bono (the lead singer of U2, a rock band), commented Jon Huntsman, the then US Ambassador, to express the popularity of Locke in China, after accompanying Locke travel through China.
The fame achieved by Locke is usually attributed to a number of steps that have all been hot topics, including using coupons for coffee, flying economy class and refusing to register into five-star hotels, and also releasing PM2.5 data under the strong protest of Chinese government.
Nevertheless, some voices also accused Locke of putting on a show, or involving in "schemes of overturning China in a peaceful way from socialism to capitalism". But Liu Weidong, an expert on Sino-US issues based in Beijing, does not agree. The suspicious attitudes showed the lack of political confidence on the side of Chinese officials. It is because of our own shortcomings that provide the opportunities for foreign officials to 'tutor us'," Liu told sino-us.com.
"I think this kind of behavior comes naturally to Mr. Locke and to many American politicians who hold elective office. In the U.S., it is really difficult to win election to a high political office (governor, U.S. Senate, U.S. House) without knowing how to successfully engage in retail politics. Most successful politicians in the U.S. are very good at making themselves seem like ordinary people. This helps them to connect with voters and to win votes at election time," Bruce Larson, Associate Professor of Political Science at Gettysburg College in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania told sino-us.com, "Mr. Locke himself might have decided to accentuate his populist style somewhat while in Beijing, but I doubt this is something very intentional by the U.S government. U.S. politicians are very independent minded in terms of style; and most probably wouldn't listen to anyone who told them what kind of style to have."
John Lenhart, Chief Representative of the US-China Business Council, once recalled one of his encounters with Ambassador Locke, before Locke became the Secretary of Commerce. The Council was holding a event in Seattle where Locke was due to come to give opening remarks, but he stayed throughout the entire event and was quite engaged, so they all felt quite honored.
And as Greg Gilligan, Chairman of AmCham China, humorously put it, "Chinese people cherish the importance and symbolism of Baozi Qing. But it has a noteworthy coincidence in 2011 in a Seattle airport coffee shop... Our Ambassador then arrived in China intentionally caffeinated, and unintentionally became famous."
"It is remarkable how a man so humble and low-key has achieved rock-star status in China. The foundation of Ambassador Locke's fame and appeal in China is his humility, warmth, approachability in combination with his tremendous abilities and success as a leader in public service," Gilligan later said.
But Liu Weidong felt Locke failed to live up to Chinese people's expectations. "When Locke first took office, many common Chinese including some scholars thought that as a Chinese American, Locke should be more effective in bridging the two countries compared with his predecessors", said Liu, "however, the result proved that such kind of expectations are not sensible or reasonable, considering as the US envoy to China, Locke would be just like all his Caucasian predecessors, serving the interests of Washington D.C."
Liu explained that until now, many Chinese people are confused by Locke's identity. Most Chinese see him as a star, celebrity but not a US official and a politician.