DIPLOMACY

Gary Locke

Scorn and gratitude in China for departing US Ambassador Gary Locke

PUBLISHED : Friday, 28 February, 2014, 1:57pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 01 March, 2014, 1:18pm

A Chinese state-run news agency's scathing farewell to US Ambassador Gary Locke on Friday stood in stark contrast to well-wishing farewells from many Chinese citizens, who applauded his efforts to raise awareness on air pollution.

Locke, 64, is set to leave Beijing on Saturday after two and a half years as the first American ambassador of Chinese descent to the country. His stint was defined by his frugality, his emphasis on the rule of law in China and his role in granting US asylum to rights activist Chen Guangcheng.

In a farewell conference on Thursday, Locke praised the development of economic ties between the two countries, but chastised China for its human rights record. He called on the Chinese government to accept more criticism at home and from abroad.

“China should have the national self-confidence to withstand the media scrutiny that most of the world takes for granted,” he said.

On Friday, China News Service, the nation’s second biggest news wire after Xinhua, did not mince its words in its goodbye message to the former US Secretary of Commerce who traces his ancestral roots to Jilong, a village in Guangdong province.

In a commentary inspired by Mao Zedong's scornful message to Leighton Stuart, the last American ambassador to the Kuomintang government, who left Nanjing in 1949, the news wire said Locke was a "yellow-skinned white-hearted banana man".

“Mr Locke not only does not understand the writing of his ancestors, but also failed to understand Chinese law,” said the commentary. “He particularly likes to gesticulate profusely and criticise indiscriminately Chinese domestic affairs.”

“Every time US officials visited China, Mr Locke would send a report and talk up China’s so-called human rights and Tibetan issues, suggesting to US officials to use the opportunity to pound China,” it added.

“If your ancestors had known about [your professional record], they would have thrown you out of the house,” wrote the state-run news agency.

It also accused Locke of “inciting evil winds, lighting evil fires” in his visits to Xinjiang and Tibet, where he criticised Chinese authorities for their treatment of ethnic minorities and for exploiting Beijing’s air pollution as a publicity stunt. 

The news agency's bitter farewell stood in stark contrast with online chatter about his departure. 

Internet users remembered him for his frugal lifestyle. In the early days of his term, photos of the ambassador queueing up at a Starbucks and flying economy class had gone viral.

The US embassy’s release of air pollution data had further bolstered his image. “Gary Locke’s biggest contribution was to tell the Chinese people what PM2.5 is, and also to tell Chinese ambassadors that they can fly economy class,” television actor Sun Haiying wrote in a weibo post.

The US embassy has released measurements of smog-induced fine particles known as PM2.5 for years. Last year, Locke ordered thousands of air purifiers for his staff in China.

In a joke circulating on Sina Weibo, China's answer to Twitter, a journalist asks Locke: “China is your ancestral home, will you take home some of your ancestral home’s soil?” Locke replies, “I am. I’ve filled my lungs with it.”