American diplomatic missions on the mainland have disclosed details of ambassador Gary Locke's income and personal assets in response to a call by a Communist Party mouthpiece in Beijing.
The Beijing Daily's demand, in a microblog posting on Monday that has since been removed, appears to have been an attempt to silence growing calls to make public mainland officials' assets - by showing US officials were just as reluctant.
'Gary Locke, please disclose [your] assets,' the paper said. But the plan appears to have backfired when he immediately did so. The prompt response triggered heated online discussion about the lack of transparency in mainland governments and widespread corruption.
The United States embassy in Beijing and its consulate in Shanghai released details of Locke's monthly salary and personal assets on their mainland microblogs yesterday morning - along with the salary levels of US State Department officials and their travel, meal and hotel reimbursement caps on the mainland. The microblog postings were accompanied by three detailed tables.
They said Locke (pictured) had declared his assets to local governments and the federal government 'almost every year' and his annual income was US$179,700, plus a US$30,000 annual education allowance for each of his three children. He had 23 assets worth between US$2.35 million and US$8.12 million, and one debt of between US$500,000 and US$1 million.
A declaration signed in March last year by Locke, the first Chinese-American to serve as US ambassador to China, showed he was the sixth richest US executive branch official.
The Beijing Daily had earlier suggest Locke was a troublemaker, after the embassy in Beijing sheltered blind legal activist Chen Guangcheng for six days following his escape from extra-legal house arrest in Shandong province last month. In an editorial published on May 4, it questioned the motives behind Locke's actions, from travelling economy class, to carrying his own bags, to using coupons to buy coffee and taking in Chen.
'Is he trying to improve the Sino-US relationship or using any means to pick faults and make trouble, which might create new and wider gaps between China and the US?' the editorial asked.
Locke, who became ambassador in August, has cultivated a media image quite distinct from that of the stereotypical corrupt mainland official, notorious for splashing out on food and drink at public expense.
Mainland internet users argued the paper should instead be urging mainland officials to disclose their own assets to counter widespread corruption. 'As a Chinese, on our own soil, a group of foreign officials disclosed their assets and income. What can be more humiliating than this?' said one.
Professor Wang Yukai, of the Chinese Academy of Governance, said: 'The disclosure has shown the US is very transparent about officials' income and expenses due to its system, so they can reveal it anytime. Although we have different systems, it still serves as a warning to us: China does not yet have any policy in place to make officials' assets known to the public and should accelerate the pace of disclosure.'