US ambassador to China Gary Locke will step down early next year, little more two years after becoming the first Chinese-American to hold the post.
Locke said in a statement yesterday that he told US President Barack Obama when they met earlier this month of his decision to rejoin his family in Seattle. Locke, a former US commerce secretary and Washington state governor, took the ambassadorship in August 2011.
There was much speculation online that Beijing's bad air had led Locke to take his family back to the United States, but the ambassador denied the claim.
"Absolutely not," he told the Los Angeles Times before flying from Beijing to Kunming on a trade mission.
"We are concerned about it [air quality], but that's not what motivated us to go back. We wanted our kids to have junior and senior year of high school back in the United States."
Dali Yang, an American political science professor based in Beijing, noted that Locke's children returned to school in Seattle several months ago and his wife, Mona Locke, has been commuting between Beijing and Seattle.
"Thus, it makes sense for him to rejoin his family in the States," said Yang, faculty director of the University of Chicago Centre in Beijing.
Jingdong Yuan, an expert in Sino-US affairs at the University of Sydney, agreed that personal factors most likely trumped environmental ones. "I think the family reason would be the leading one," he said.
Locke listed among his accomplishments during his tenure as US ambassador increasing American exports to China, promoting Chinese investment in the US and reducing the waiting times for an American visa to three to five days, down from highs of 70 to 100 days.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei praised Locke and said that he "has strived to foster China-US communication and co-operation, and for this we express our compliments".
Additional reporting by Angela Meng