China Ink

Chinese, but still a Yankee

How Barack Obama’s decision to appoint Gary Locke, the US’ first ethnic Chinese ambassador to China, was greeted.

Chinese, but still a Yankee

Return of the prodigal son?

Return of the prodigal son?

The Chinese media downplayed any talk of the advantages of Locke’s ethnicity. “We need not overemphasize [Gary] Locke’s Chinese origins,” the China Daily quoted CASS foreign policy expert Tao Wendao, “He can’t even speak Mandarin Chinese.”

Internet commentators were similarly unimpressed. “Don’t expect that Gary Locke will defend China,” warned Phoenix TV news editor Luwei Luqiu, “he is an American with a Chinese face.” Weibo commentator ‘Older Brother Jing Ba’ thought it was just another tactic to contain China: “We cannot help but think of the phrase ‘using Chinese collaborators to subdue the Chinese’.”

Many in the US media saw it as masterstroke. “[It] is perhaps one of the grandest gestures President Obama could make to a country that takes gestures seriously,” argued the Washington Post. The Christian Science Monitor was more optimistic still: “There is an undeniable tendency among Chinese of all walks of life, officials or not, to expect [American-born Chinese] will give China a break.”

Locke even has a personal connection to Chinese political history through his wife, noted the Wall Street Journal. Her father is Sun Bo, the stepson of the respected revolutionary leader Sun Yat-sen.

Trade to top the agenda?

China’s press is more interested in Locke’s background as Commerce Secretary, and his move to Beijing is being seen to represent further US efforts to reduce the trade deficit. The China Daily described Locke as the “trump card” in efforts to “double exports by 2015”, noting that Washington State’s exports to China did something similar while Locke was governor.

But others doubted Locke would have much of an impact. “To expand exports to China, the US can’t simply rely on an ambassador,” former Chinese ambassador to the US Zhou Wenzhong told Xinhua. “They don’t sell what we want, and we can’t buy more [of] what they want to sell.”

True, the US media agreed, Locke is more than familiar with US business concerns, especially regarding issues of market access and intellectual property.

But it’s also been noted that his tenure as Commerce Secretary has seen the trade deficit reach a new record. “Obama regularly cites China as a top economic competitor to the US,” points out a sceptical Bloomberg News, “and Locke’s Commerce Department reported a $273.1 billion trade deficit with China last year, a 20.4% increase from 2009.”

The road ahead?

Locke may not get much of a honeymoon period. The China Daily regarded the appointment as “a positive move by Washington to advance bilateral ties”, while maintaining that “more constructive steps are still needed”.

Locke could receive his toughest scrutiny back home on non-trade issues.

“Many caution that he has little experience in some of the stiffest dilemmas the US faces in its dealings with China, like how to manage an increasingly assertive China in talks over North Korea, Iran and possibly now Libya [and] ongoing concerns over human rights,” reports the LA Times.

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