AS Gary Locke prepares to leave his post as U.S. ambassador to China, the U.S.-China relationship is in good order. Washington’s former governor has done a solid job representing the United States.
Locke has had two crises during his two and a half years in Beijing. The first was when Wang Lijun, the head of the Public Security Bureau in Chongqing, Sichuan province, sought refuge in a U.S. consulate after revealing a scandal. The second was when political activist Chen Guangcheng, who is blind, escaped from house arrest in Shandong province and sought refuge at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. Locke handled both of these crises in a way that maintained American values and relations with China’s government.
Much of Locke’s work in China has been the mundane and essential business of promoting U.S. exports there and Chinese investment here. Trade and investment had been a focus in his previous post as U.S. commerce secretary. The single-most important thing the embassy did in that regard was to reduce the time it took for a Chinese person to apply for a U.S. visa and get a decision about it. When Locke began, the delay was 70 to 100 days, a logjam that cost America millions in lost business. Locke had it reduced to five days.
He was also a cultural ambassador, a notice to the Chinese that “American” is a nationality, not a race, and that the American dream includes people who look like them. To a country used to privileged officials, he wowed the Chinese people with the unofficious act of ordering his own Starbucks and by carrying his own bag. He traveled China with Mona and the kids, giving them a sense of their ancestors and showing the Chinese a successful American family.
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The ambassador Locke replaced, Jon Huntsman, ran for president, and there has been some talk about Locke on the Democratic ticket for 2016. He says he’s coming back to be with Mona and see his children through high school, and we accept him at his word. Locke has done a lot. He is the most prominent member of the executive branch from the state of Washington, and the Evergreen State is proud of him.