Diplomacy over a cup of coffee for Locke

PUBLISHED : Monday, 15 August, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 15 August, 2011, 12:00am


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When new US Ambassador to China Gary Locke arrived in Beijing at the weekend to take up his post, it really was time for him to wake up and smell the coffee.

Locke, 61, a former US secretary of commerce and two-term governor of Washington state, met journalists yesterday for the first time as ambassador at his Beijing home, accompanied by his wife and three children.

But while he diplomatically tried to reassure worried mainlanders about the US debt situation, most of the comments in the mainland blogosphere seemed to be focused on a photo of Locke taken at Seattle airport's Starbucks before he departed for Beijing on Friday.

Locke was with his daughter at the Starbucks till when he tried to use a coupon to buy his coffee. But the coupon was rejected by the assistant and he had to use his credit card.

A mainland blogger spotted the incident and posted the photo on the Weibo microblog site.

That photo has won Locke much applause, with microblog users comparing him to Chinese officials, who are known as spendthrifts with arrogant attitudes.

A second photo, showing Locke coming out of Beijing airport with his sleeves rolled up, walking with his family while he carried their luggage like a normal tourist, also impressed internet users.

Chinese media even noted that he did not take the usual US embassy stretch Cadillac, opting instead for a Ford when he found that his family of five couldn't fit in the Cadillac.

'I like to do things myself,' Locke said with a grin yesterday, as he invited journalists to stay behind for refreshments and even poured some of the drinks for them.

In response to the blogosphere's interest in him, Locke said he 'looked forward to using all forms of communications, including blogging and electronic media' to promote understanding between the people of America and China.

Locke's answers to questions on tricky areas in Sino-US relations, such as Taiwan and human rights, were careful and brief. Being the first ethnic Chinese to become America's ambassador to China, Locke also emphasised several times that he was in China to represent the interests of United States.

'On a personal level, I am both humbled and honoured to stand here before you as a child of Chinese immigrants representing America, the land of my birth, and the American values my family holds dear,' said Locke, a third generation Chinese-American from Taishan , Guangdong.

'I can only imagine just how proud my dad, Jimmy, who passed away in January, would be for his son to be the first Chinese-American to represent the Untied States in the land of his and my mother's birth,' he said. But he quickly made clear where his allegiance lies.

'My parents, my wife, our children - we all personally represent America and America's promise as a land of freedom, equality and opportunity,' he said.

He also acknowledged that his ethnicity would allow him to do the job more effectively.

'Being a Chinese-American, I have greater sensitivity and understanding of the history and culture of China,' Locke said.

He highlighted China's currency and North Korea as two major items he needed to work on, but said that promoting understanding between the two countries is his top priority.

And he emphasised the 'many, many issues' on which the two countries could expand co-operation.

He added: 'I really believe we have this opportunity as two great nations to provide the leadership for the entire world so that history books 100 years from now will say that it was China and the US in a partnership that made the planet both safer and a better place to live, work and raise a family.'