Gary Locke

Locke stunned by attention of bloggers

PUBLISHED : Friday, 04 November, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 04 November, 2011, 12:00am


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United States Ambassador Gary Locke, an online sensation on the mainland for months, says the unexpected publicity sparked by his humble lifestyle has been overwhelming.

Pictures of him buying coffee at Seattle airport with a coupon, flying economy class and carrying his own luggage on arrival in Beijing have filled the mainland blogosphere. The pictures were used by mainland microblog users to compare Locke favourably to spendthrift and arrogant mainland officials.

Speaking to reporters in Guangzhou yesterday during a three-day tour of Guangdong, Locke said he had been overwhelmed by the high profile given to him by microbloggers and the use of photographs of him and his family taken by members of the public using smartphones.

'I had no idea that anyone was taking a picture of me back in my hometown of Seattle when I was buying a cup of coffee,' he said. 'If you look at the picture, it was from behind so we didn't even know the person ever took the picture until we saw it on the blogs.

'But I'm very honoured that there is so much attention about our arrival and our lifestyles. Americans are very easy-going people. That's how we are in America. We want to convey the tradition, cultures and values of America wherever we go.

'We weren't expecting any press at the airport when we arrived so we were completely surprised by that, because we had not informed any of the press of the time, date or which airline we were arriving on. We were caught completely off guard by that.'

Commenting on preparations for Vice-President Xi Jinping's highly anticipated visit to the US, Locke said no date had been set and the planning was up to Vice-President Joe Biden, who was keen to return the great hospitality he received during his recent visit to China.

'I can tell you that during the several days of meetings between the two vice-presidents they have developed a very close personal relationship ... we want to make sure that it's going to be a very memorable and enjoyable visit to the United States,' he said.

Concerning possible changes to the governments in both countries over the next two years, Locke said governments would always change but it was important to maintain the relationship between institutions, such as commercial collaboration and scientific research.

'And of course one key job is to meet the future leaders of China and to help ensure a smooth transition with all the leadership changes,' he said.

Locke, 61, a former secretary of commerce and two-term governor of Washington state, met Guangdong party chief Wang Yang, a closely watched rising political star, yesterday.

Speaking to reporters with the assistance of a Caucasian interpreter, Locke stressed that his ethnic Chinese background had allowed him greater sensitivity and appreciation of Chinese culture.

Some critics have said Locke might not understand China as well as his predecessor Jon Huntsman, a Republican politician who is running for the US presidency next year and who claims to be fluent in Putonghua.

'I actually grew up with my dad speaking Taishanese at home. And my mum speaks Cantonese. She's from Hong Kong so I know Cantonese,' Locke said, before adding in his heavily accented southern Chinese dialect: 'I can understand Cantonese but I can't speak it.'