Saturday, March 1, 2014

Gary Locke's China Legacy is for all Americans

There were strong murmurs of dissatisfaction within the Chinese American community over Gary Locke's performance as ambassador to China. Their disappointment seemed similar to Beijing's official criticism upon his departure--namely too much harping on human rights according to official party line from Washington and not enough effort on being a friend of China.

Expecting Locke to be more empathetic to China's position was unfortunately based on the wrong assumption. He was appointed by the U.S. to represent the official position of the Obama Administration. That was his mandate which he carried out as best as he could. It's certainly debatable whether he is even qualified to represent Chinese Americans point of view steeped in Chinese culture and history. As an American born Chinese, he did not have the necessary background and exposure to Chinese values and he probably did not have the personal inclination to become a bridge to both sides.

Even so, he played a vital albeit unwitting role in the Wang Lijun affair which led to the downfall of Bo Xilai. The drama is not yet over but we may yet find out that in ensuring the safe delivery of Wang to the central authorities, Locke thwarted an attempt to overthrow the current regime and be replaced by a rogue and corrupt cabal. When (and if) all the sordid details of the attempted coup are ever revealed, Beijing may yet acknowledge the positive contribution by Locke and the U.S. government.

As I had anticipated in my blog, written when he was first nominated, Locke's task as the ambassador was more challenging than just any plain old white guy because of expectations associated with his ethnicity that he cannot fulfill. Sadly for him, based on the official lambasting farewell sendoff that he received, he may not even be welcome in the future as a "friend of China." Unlike his predecessor ambassadors, he may have difficulty developing a lucrative advisory practice based on his rolodex built during his Beijing stay.

Ironically, there was even some speculation in Washington circles that Locke could never be counted as a member of the U.S. establishment because there were always some doubt as to "which side he is on." (It happened to the late Matt Fong during his Senate confirmation hearings when he was asked hypothetically as to which side of the Pacific his loyalty lay.)

This won't be a problem for Max Baucus. He is white with many years of service in Congress. Few can claim his kind of inner circle credentials. He will be able to talk to any members of Congress and perhaps alter some deeply ingrained China bashing attitude. He should find receptive listeners in Secretary of State Kerry and President Obama, both former colleagues in the Senate. He has the real potential to construct and strengthen the communications link between Beijing and Washington. 

Chinese Americans should take pride in Gary Locke becoming the first Chinese American governor of a state and first cabinet secretary. He made history by being the ambassador to China, though not quite on par with Anson Burlingame becoming the ambassador from China. Instead, Locke is a role model for all Americans, not just Chinese Americans.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This feeling is prevalent among older generation of Chinese Americans, particularly the transplanted ones. The younger generation and those born in this country do not have hang up like this.