US ambassador earns praise again for his thrift

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 05 April, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 05 April, 2012, 12:00am

A heated discussion has been raging in cyberspace on the mainland about the US ambassador's shunning of a five-star hotel in favour of a cheaper one when he went to a conference in Hainan province this week.

Gary Locke, who is known to be low-key and frugal, is back in the mainland media limelight after reportedly saying he could not afford the official hotel for the Boao Forum for Asia, which ended on Tuesday.

A reporter with Southern Television Guangdong said on her weibo microblog on Tuesday that Locke did not choose the five-star Sofitel, where other senior government officials were staying, because 'it's too expensive', citing an aide to the envoy.

The Sofitel's room rates were three times the rate the US government allows for official visits, the aide was quoted as saying.

Locke ended up in a four-star hotel nearby, where the most expensive suite costs 940 yuan (HK$1,159) a night.

By last night, the reporter's original tweet had been reposted nearly 17,000 times. Tens of thousands of mainlanders, including some celebrities, have joined the online discussion on Locke's lodging in Hainan.

The majority of the online opinions, especially comments on major news portals such as Sina and Sohu, gave credit to Locke for his frugal behaviour, especially as seen against many mainland government officials' wasteful lifestyle.

But a small number of internet users questioned his intention.

They said Locke was just putting on 'another show' in an effort to impress people after famously flying economy class, trying to buy a coffee at Starbucks with a coupon and carrying his own luggage.

An anonymous online commentator from Luoyang , Shaanxi province , wrote on Sina weibo that Locke made mainland officials look dirty and ugly.

'A US official disciplines himself in a foreign country, while our officials indulge themselves under the nose of disciplinary watchdogs,' he wrote. 'No wonder the prices of expensive wines, cigarettes and teas can be pushed up endlessly in our wonderful land.'

Pan Shiyi, a mainland property tycoon, voiced his support for Locke.

'I sent the tweet to ambassador Locke, and he confirmed it with a yes,' Pan wrote on his weibo, backing the authenticity of the Guangdong reporter's original tweet.

Li Kaifu, president of Innovation Works and former chief of Google China, rebuffed speculation that it was just a piece of public showmanship. He posted on his weibo a link to the US Department of State's travel budget page.

'US$181 for Haikou, US$258 for Beijing and only US$71 for Lijiang. So ambassador Locke is only abiding by the law in a relatively rigorous and refined system,' Li wrote.

The tweet was reposted over 11,000 times.

But blogger Nan Musang wrote that Locke was putting on a charade.

'The rule in the US is that the lodging cost for a conference can be reimbursed even if it exceeds the budget,' he wrote.

'When Locke served as the US secretary of commerce, his staff were reportedly travelling frequently by first class and staying in luxury hotels,' Nan said.


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