There is a sense of disappointment from many American expats in China that Gary Locke is stepping down, though others have expressed a certain amount of schadenfreude glee at the potential hints of scandal. And while leaving office for “personal reasons” is usually a red flag, its not difficult to see what other options might exist.
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The juiciest theory of them all is that he had an affair. While his wife, Mona Locke has denied these rumours, China postings are known unofficially amongst State Department employees as the number one location for diplomats getting the boot. Not for spy work, but for having an unreported affair. Not that the State Department cares about the morals in question, but simply that you report said affair to prevent security transgressions. The problem of course is that many spouses work in the Embassy or Consulates as well, and some choose to hide the affair, in which case, its a security breach.
And while there have been several Ambassadors to China (ahem, a certain former Australian Ambassador being one colorful example) who are proud of the number of Chinese girls they’ve bedded, Ambassador Locke doesn’t follow that pattern. Furthermore, anyone who has ever had the chance to speak to the intelligent, charming and incredibly beautiful Mona Locke would see that Gary Locke is clearly punching above his weight and would be insane to mess that up. But his wife might yet be a solid reason why Ambassador Locke has decided to return Stateside: the closeted lifestyle might not have suited a woman who is used to the social freedoms in America. Claimed as an untapped resource it would not have been easy for Mona Lee Locke to be satisfied in the shadows as an Ambassador’s Wife.
But also, there are the children to consider. Daily reminders of the pollution index from the Embassy are a thorn in most any parent’s side, as they consider the damage they might be causing to their children’s lungs in conditions that border on “dangerous” or “crazy bad” a large swath of the year. Life isn’t easy in Beijing, and if you’re used to clouds inferring rain (and not smog poisoning) it might be hard to come to grips with the weather in China’s capital. Puns on his Chinese name “Luo Jiahui” have been making the rounds on the internet referencing him as “the one who returns home to cough.”
There is of course also the fine line that one must walk as a Chinese-American. That ever important hyphen is hard for many to understand. And the inherent racism in Chinese people and media works for and against Locke: he’s ethnically Chinese (thumbs up!) but doesn’t speak Mandarin (thumbs down). He’s friends with Obama (thumbs up!) but doesn’t look American enough (thumbs down). Referred to by several Chinese officials on the sly as a “fake foreigner” many believe, quite mistakenly in this correspondent’s opinion, that he isn’t truly American. Pointing out that well over 17 million Americans are of Asian descent hasn’t done much to corrode the Chinese stereotype of America.
Still further, his success story as the true “American Dream” puts holes in Xi Jinping’s policy of “China Dream.” Ambassador Locke’s success serves to remind the Chinese people that they might have a better chance at life in America, where you don’t have an obtuse and obfuscated legal system, free education and less classism than that of post-Mao China. Its not all roses in America either, of course, though the freedom of voice in media outrage at least brings to light classist issues in a way that is subversive and often dangerous in China. (A great example is that of “My Father is Li Gang” versus the American 16 year old murderer of four who got off because of “Affluenza.”)
Like many everyday Chinese, this correspondent too is a fan of Ambassador Locke. Not only is he incredibly cool (see his appearance on the Daily Show: part one and part two ) But he was also an Eagle Scout! Ex-colleagues at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing have shared that they too are disappointed that Ambassador Locke has chosen to leave, but they also don’t seem surprised by this turn of events.
With such big shoes to fill, who can replace Ambassador Locke? Yesterday, President Obama nominated Senator Max Baucus for the job. With several years of picking the brains of China experts under his belt and a solid record in the Senate, many rejoice at his nomination, pointing out what he would offer to China. Twitter’s sinophiles have gone gaga already, praising him on his record and his ideas. China’s weibo users, however, express more doubts. And of course, they’ve not lost any time, already dubbing his Chinese name as “Bao Kesi” (aka: Guaranteed to Cough to Death).
So as China must bid adieu to the down to earth Locke who has won over the hearts and minds of the people, they are already looking forward to the future. Hopefully there will be no regrets in his decision, but as soon to be former Ambassador Gary Locke sits down and enjoys a cup of coffee in his native Seattle it is doubtful that he will long for his stressful China residence.
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