Gary Locke

Two candidates rumoured to be front-runners for next US ambassador to China

Edwin Lee and Steven Westley are both possible candidates for the post of US ambassador in Beijing

PUBLISHED : Friday, 22 November, 2013, 5:55pm
UPDATED : Friday, 22 November, 2013, 7:27pm

Gary Locke, the US ambassador to China, announced on Wednesday that he will step down early next year, giving rise to a flurry of speculation over who will be the next candidate for the job.

The first Chinese American to take the job, the 63-year-old Locke dealt with several precarious political situations during his two years of service, including a diplomatic controversy over blind activist Chen Guangcheng.

Rumours arose that Locke was returning to the US after having an extra-marrital affair with a woman in Beijing, but in a recent interview with Chinanews.com, Locke's wife, Mona Lee Locke, refuted these claims and explained that her husband's decision had been motivated by a desire to join the rest of his family in Seattle.

Locke's announcement coincided with a visit to China by San Francisco mayor Edwin Mah Lee. Lee has been rumoured to be in line for the post, reported the San Francisco Chronicle, citing “rumours [that] have been circulating at San Francisco City Hall since at least September.”

Lee is the 43rd mayor of San Francisco and the first Asian American to assume the post. Born in Seattle to parents that immigrated to the US from Guangdong, Lee has visited China three times over the past year and has met both previous Chinese President Hu Jintao and current Vice President Li Yuanchao.

Lee’s spokeswoman, Christine Falvey, released a media statement on Thursday refuting the rumours.

“While amused by the speculation, he has no interest in being ambassador to China,” Falvey reportedly told the San Francisco Chronicle in a follow-up article. “He is 100 per cent committed to a job he loves – being mayor of the best city in the world.”

Despite these claims, pundits have not completely written off Lee - the San Francisco mayor was originally only appointed as a one-year interim mayor in 2011, and said at the time that he had “no interest” in running for a full four-year term, a statement he later revised.

Former Chief Financial Officer of California Steven Paul Westley has also been named as a possible candidate for the ambassador job.

Previously a candidate for the 2006 Governor of California election, the 57-year-old Westley currently runs The Westly Group, a clean technology venture capital organisation, and frequently visits China for business every few months. His wife, Anita Yu Westley, immigrated to the United States from Hong Kong as a child.

Westley has been considered for the position in the past, according to reports by The International New York Times, but has yet to issue any recent comment in light of Locke’s announcement.

In a Washington press briefing, US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said there would be “a process that will be underway to determine an appropriate and qualified and talented replacement” for Locke, but no specific names were identified.