Thursday, 21 November 2013

Zaijian, Mr Locke

Gary Locke with his family when they first arrived in Beijing
US Ambassador to China Gary Locke has tendered his resignation and will leave the post in January to join his family in Seattle.

He was in the job for two years and it must have been interesting for the third-generation Chinese-American to see his grandparents' homeland.

Locke quickly endeared himself to the ordinary Chinese when he was spotted flying economy class, carrying his own luggage and trying to pay his Starbucks coffee with coupons.

But his tenure quickly escalated into international news -- twice.

He endeared himself to the Chinese for being humble
The first was in November 2011 Locke visited Chongqing where he met the then party chief Bo Xilai. Three months later Bo's right hand man Wang Lijun fled to the US consulate in Chengdu and told of the story of a murder that implicated Bo and evidence of corruption in the hopes of receiving asylum in return.

In the end there wasn't enough justification for the US to take him in and this led to Bo's downfall which we saw a few months ago.

Then last May blind activist Chen Guangcheng managed to escape illegal house arrest in Shandong and fled to Beijing and sought refuge in the US Embassy.

This created a huge diplomatic crisis for the US, as then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was about to arrive for scheduled talks and didn't want this incident to anger the Chinese.

At first the embassy didn't want to confirm Chen was there, but in the end said it accepted him on humanitarian grounds and medical assistance.

He will be forever remembered in helping Chen Guangcheng
Perhaps Locke's misstep was leaving Chen alone in a Beijing hospital to get his foot looked at because he broke it while escaping; as a result Chinese security stepped in, and Chen was unable to contact the embassy, nor were US diplomats able to see him. This made Chen anxious and felt abandoned, even betrayed.

In the end negotiations were made for Chen and his family to go to New York.

Some speculated that Locke is leaving because of the increasingly bad air quality in Beijing, but the consulate denies this. Nevertheless his family has already moved back to Seattle and so it would only be a matter of time before he rejoined them.

So what's next for Locke? Surely he won't be out of the headlines for long.

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