Gary Locke, the first Chinese American to serve as the US ambassador to China, was constantly in the public eye ever since his nomination in 2011. His sudden announcement of resignation on November 20 created a massive buzz on the Chinese social media platform Weibo where a compilation of the gibes the Chinese media has thrown at him over the past two and a half years is making rounds.
Embezzling saved travel expenses
Gary Locke is known in China for his low-key style which the Chinese praised as “probity”. Locke impressed with his economy class travel, his casual backpack style and the fact the he did not even have bodyguards or retinue when he first arrived in China. Dazed by the Chinese officials’ usual extravagance, the Chinese generally found Locke refreshing and endearing. The sentiment, however, is not shared by China’s state-controlled media.
Weibo user @KEVIN__JCI posted this picture saying, “On the same plane with Gary Locke. He is indeed taking the economy class!” Photo: weibo.com
On September 14, 2011, shortly after Locke assumed his post as US ambassador to China, he flew to Dalian to attend the Summer Davos Forum, again, in economy class. In Dalian, he was asked by CCTV (China Central Television) anchor Rui Chenggang whether by flying economy class he was “reminding the US of its debt to China”. To which, Locke responded that it is the general practice for the American government officials to fly economy class. This Q&A subsequently went viral on the Chinese social media.
Locke shocked the Chinese again half a year later with another rare act when attending the Boao Forum in Hainan in April 2012. He refused to check into the designated five-star hotel because it cost three times more than the travel allowance set by the US government. Once again, the Chinese were reminded of the startling difference between some Chinese officials and their US counterparts.
Global Times, a tabloid run by China’s biggest party-controlled daily newspaper People’s Daily, responded with an article in which it accused Locke of “assuming a place in the media that exceeded what is expected of an ambassador“ and “in this clever way, creating new misunderstanding and suspicion between the two countries”.
Tian Junrong, chief editor of the China Economic Weekly, a magazine run by People’s Daily, attacked with another alarming accusation in a public speech at Fudan University, in which he said, “Why would he choose to fly economy class? Because the US government pays a fixed amount of travel expense and he could keep the saved money himself.”
A typical American politician with subpar performance
The Chen Guangcheng crisis in 2012 was the highlight of Gary Locke’s two-and-a-half year term as ambassador. The US Embassy granted the blind activist refuge and medical assistance in April 2012 and later helped him and his family to get US visa and leave China for New York where Chen was offered a visiting scholar position at New York University.
File photo of Gary Locke holding Chen Guangcheng's hand as he accompanies him to a hospital in Beijing in May 2012. Photo: weibo.com
On May 4, Beijing Daily, a newspaper under the Communist Party Beijing Municipal Committee, published an op-ed in which it questioned Locke’s motives, accusing him of “stirring up trouble”. Locke was painted as a “typical American politician” whose acts are inappropriate for an ambassador and are “boring and inferior”.
Buying coffee with coupon is hypocrisy
The picture of Locke buying coffee with his trademark backpack in Seattle Airport’s Starbucks has long been circulating on the Chinese social media. The Beijing Daily op-ed referred to it as “a civilian life show”. The same wording was used by Global Times. In an editorial titled “Hope Gary Locke Could Focus on His Job as Ambassador”, the paper accused Locke for overstepping the boundaries of his role as an ambassador in public opinion through the attention he was getting in the media.
Locke was said to have tried to pay for his coffee with a coupon and was told the coupon could not be used at the Airport Starbucks. Photo: weibo.com
Meddling with Beijing’s city management
The Chinese had never heard of PM 2.5 before Gary Locke came to China. Since November 2011, the US Embassy has been releasing daily Air Quality Index through its website, which introduced to the Chinese for the first time the concept of PM 2.5 particles which the embassy measures through its air quality monitor.
Weibo user @JacobZhou said in his post: If not for Gary Locke, we probably still do not know what PM 2.5 is. Photo: weibo.com
This has been widely considered by the Chinese public as one of Locke’s main legacies as ambassador besides greatly reducing the waiting time for US visas from 70 to 100 days to a mere three to five days. However, some Chinese media consider it as yet another example of Locke acting beyond his power as ambassador. Beijing Daily called it “meddling with Beijing’s city management” in the op-ed.
Request to disclose personal property
Despite the Chinese public’s generally positive reaction to Locke’s low-key style, some Chinese media kept singing a different tune, claiming that Locke was only painted as a down-to-earth official by the “paparazzi” reports, as Global Times put it. In May 2012, Beijing Daily even called on Locke to disclose his personal property through its official Weibo, which created a big stir on the Chinese social media. It was soon revealed that Locke had already done so in 2010. Beijing Daily was then confronted by the Weibo users who clamored for the paper to publish an editorial asking the Chinese officials to disclose their personal property as Locke has done.
Screenshot of Global Times' said article. Photo: weibo.com
Agent of US neo-colonialism
An old 2011 article from Guangming Daily, another major state-owned daily newspaper published by the Communist Party, was dug out by the Weibo users, in which it cautioned the Chinese against the “neo-colonialism” Locke was bringing to China.
In the same vein as the “cold war” way of thinking, Locke was said to be a tool of the US which aimed to control China and create political turmoil with Locke’s Chinese American background and his much talked-about down-to-earth style.