US envoy to China quits job

Updated: 2013-11-21 12:12

By Zhang Yuwei in New York, Chen Jia in San Francisco, and Qin Jize and Zhang Fan in Beijing (China Daily USA)

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As Gary Locke, the first Chinese-American to serve as US ambassador to China, announced his resignation on Wednesday, the news came as a surprise to many. While experts say the impact of his stepping down on US-China ties will be minimal, they recognize the envoy's achievements in promoting trade and investment between the two largest economies.

Locke, 63, a former governor of Washington State and US commerce secretary, citing personal reasons, said he is leaving Beijing to rejoin his family in Seattle early next year. In an official statement, the envoy - who took the post in August 2011 - said he had informed US President Obama of his decision in a meeting earlier this month.

"Serving as the US ambassador to China has been the honor of a lifetime," Locke said in a statement.

China Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said on Wednesday that China appreciates Locke's efforts to advance communication and cooperation between the two countries.

Rick Larsen, US representative for Washington State's 2nd Congressional District and co-chair and founder of the US-China Working Group, said Locke opened new markets for Washington businesses and helped the economy grow.

"His historic appointment as the first Chinese-American to be our ambassador to China led to closer ties and more frank dialogue across the Pacific," said Larsen in a statement. "I am proud of Gary's steadfast commitment to promote human rights in China and advance American interests in the Asia-Pacific region."

Zhu Zhiqun, a professor of political science and international relations at Bucknell University, said Locke will be remembered as the first Chinese-American US ambassador to China at a time "when the two countries are deepening and widening their relations".

"He has been doing well, and he has the ears of President Obama. The short-term impact will be minimal, since the US-China relationship is pretty stable now," Zhu noted.

US envoy to China quits job

Bonnie Glaser, senior adviser for Asia at the US-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, said Locke focused on expanding trade, especially increasing US exports to China and promoting Chinese investment in the US.

US research firm Rhodium Group says Chinese investment in the US will likely set a record in 2013. This will follow a record year in 2012, when deals worth more than $6.5 billion were reached, a 12 percent increase from the previous record of $5.8 billion in 2010.

Besides Locke's achievements in promoting bilateral trade and investment, his efforts to simplify visa procedures and shorten the waiting time from highs of 70 to 100 days to between three and five days have brought practical benefits for the Chinese people, said experts.

Niu Jun, a professor at the School of International Studies at Peking University, said he personally benefited from the new visa procedure.

"Take me, for example, I used to decline some invitations to visit the US simply because of the extremely long waiting time," said Niu.

During his two and a half years in Beijing, Locke has seen some of the most difficult moments in bilateral relations, such as when former Chongqing deputy mayor Wang Lijun fled to the US consulate in Chengdu in February 2012.

Wang later left the consulate and in September 2012 was sentenced to 15 years in prison for defection, bending the law for selfish ends, abuse of power, and corruption.

Known for his understated manner, photos showing Locke buying coffee at Starbucks with a coupon and wearing a backpack at an airport went viral on the Internet. His grandfather emigrated from China to Washington State and his father, who was also born in China, ran a grocery store in the US.

Locke's resignation has triggered widespread interest on the Internet and in the media. His wife Mona and their children left Beijing in July.

In a guest column in the Seattle Times published earlier this month, Locke's wife explained why she returned home and came to lead Komen Puget Sound, a non-profit organization that fights against breast cancer.

"We needed a home where our kids could attend local schools, make lifelong friends, and learn to value community and to help others," wrote the former first lady of Washington State.

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(China Daily USA 11/21/2013 page1)