Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Is Gary Locke America’s Answer to China’s Anson Burlingame?

Assuming that he is an unworthy target for obstructionist politics and is confirmed by the Senate, Gary Locke will be first American of Chinese ancestry to serve as ambassador to China.

Over 140 years ago, Anson Burlingame became the first American to be appointed by the Qing imperial court to serve as ambassador from China to Washington.

There are some interesting mirror image parallels in these two historical appointments and some important differences.

Burlingame was first appointed Ambassador to China by Abraham Lincoln. After six years in that capacity, Prince Gong, the regent behind the throne approached Burlingame and asked if he would accept the appointment as China’s ambassador to the West and help China renegotiate the many unequal treaties signed with the western powers.

Burlingame known for his integrity and highest sense of right and wrong immediately submitted his resignation to Washington and accepted the appointment to represent China. He was credited with the Burlingame Treaty of 1868 between China and the U.S. which recognized the sovereign rights of China.

In 1870, Burlingame died of pneumonia in St. Petersburg while negotiating with the Russian Czar on behalf of China. Less than a decade after his death, the U.S. began to renege on the terms of his treaty but that’s another story.

Locke did not come from China, his father and grandfather did. Locke was born and raised in America. His qualifications to be ambassador come from his past service as governor of Washington and as Secretary of Commerce.

Washington was one of the most active states in building trade relations with China, long before China emerged as a world economic power and predating Locke’s terms as governor. As governor, he was certainly engaged in those initiatives and can rightly claim a leadership role.

Then as Secretary of Commerce, Locke has been one of Obama’s key players in the bilateral relations with China. He can certainly claim ample experience with and knowledge of China

However as the next ambassador, Locke will face some challenges that might be uniquely his because of his being an ethnic Chinese.

In some circumstances, a foreign country does not always welcome a native born who have immigrated to America to return as the ambassador from America. Sometimes such appointments are regarded as a put-down—the psychology of “aren’t we important enough for Washington to send a real American envoy?”

Locke is unlikely to encounter such a form of reverse snobbery because of the strength of his credentials and stature. Instead the Chinese officials might expect more from him because of his presumed cultural affinity than a “real” American.

Even for a Mandarin speaking Jon Huntsman, the Chinese officials would never think of him as one of them but looking at Locke, they might, even if his Mandarin is not as fluent as Huntsman, his predecessor.

The Chinese officials may presume Locke to possess certain cultural empathy and can pick up the nuances and innuendoes that a white person cannot and they would expect Locke to be more sympathetic to the Chinese points of view.

Such a presumption would put Locke in a delicate position since his duties and obligations are to represent America’s interest, not necessarily that of China. Inevitably he will be call on to occasionally deliver hard-nosed messages from Washington, whereupon he would have to exercise his diplomatic skills to moderate America’s traditionally imperious approach.

Locke also risks being challenged by select members of Congress and other Americans on occasions when they are having xenophobic fits and demanding to know, “Whose side are you on?”—a question that would never be asked if Locke were white.

On top of all this, Locke is also becoming America’s envoy to Beijing in a new era when the basis of bilateral relations is shifting from big brother/little brother to one of equals between peers.

While America may not willingly relinquish its position as the senior partner, the reality suggests that the next envoy will have to. As holder of over a trillion dollars in American IOU’s, China expects to be treated with the respect of someone the US is beholden to.

The US China bilateral relation has arguably become the most important in the world. As ambassador, Locke’s priority will be to enhance closer cooperation despite the expected bumps on the road when the two sides cannot agree. Obama faces plenty of challenges for the remainder of his term of office and he does not need China to be among them.

Even though no other American ambassador to China had become a turned-around envoy from China since Burlingame, nearly all, since George H. Bush was appointed by Nixon, have returned from their posting to share their understanding of China with the American public and reject simplistic lambasting frequently indulged by Congress.

Many became proponents and supporters of less confrontational and closer bilateral relations. Whether Locke’s term is two years or more, we can expect him to join the ranks of positive emissaries when he returns from China.

A version of this post appeared in New America Media and subsequently picked up by China-US Focus.

Monday, April 4, 2011

South Africa, Tourist Destination - 2

The game watching experience at Kruger is different from that on the Serengeti Plains where herds of animals range freely and predators can be seen stalking them. At Kruger, presence of game is more elusive and one has to work harder to spot them. The hyena appeared on the roadside for a fleeting second and disappeared into the bushes.

Impala is by far the most common sighting but nevertheless one of the handsomest animals on the Reserve.

Spotting lions copulating in the bushes is not difficult. While they tryst often, each tryst does not last long. The hard part of catching them in the act is the act itself.

At the Mkaya Reserve in Swaziland, wild nyalas and warthogs walked freely around the camp grounds and rangers took us on walks for close views of rhinos, tsessebes, zebras and giraffes.

As our ranger quickly backed the safari vehicle out of the way, he said, "You'd never want to get between a herd of elephants and their water."

South Africa as a Tourist Destination

South Africa is a beautiful country: spectacular coast lines on eastern and western part of the country that funnel down to the famous Cape of Good Hope; Drakensberg mountain range with peaks higher than 10,000 feet that runs north-south and divides that the country into a wet eastern region and a dry western region; wild game preserves, waterfalls, beaches, breathtaking mountain passes and Cape Town, the crown jewel of South Africa.

The surface area of South Africa is about 10% larger than the combined territory of California and Texas. Officially the population of South Africa at 50 million is about 10 million less than the two states but there could be as much as 10 million unregistered immigrants from other parts of Africa living in South Africa. Even though California and Texas have illegal immigrants residing within their state borders as well, the number is believed to be vastly less than those in South Africa. My observations of the challenges facing South Africa have been discussed in my earlier blog.

On our tour of South Africa, I find Kruger National Park, Mkaya Preserve in the Kingdom of Swaziland, Sani Pass of the Drakensberg Mountain and Cape Town especially memorable and selected photos are presented in this blog. We were in South Africa early March, which was the beginning of autumn, and we experienced ideal weather. The one thundershower that met us as we arrived at the hotel in Drakensberg was impressive by the massiveness of the quick downpour and made us appreciate the clear blue skies that preceded and followed that shower.

Just as I am glad to have visited Tunisia and Egypt when we did, I am appreciative of the natural beauty of South Africa and a bit fearful of its future as a tourist destination. My advice to anyone thinking of visiting South Africa is to do so sooner rather than later.

Rock formations caused by swirling waters on Blyde River.

The three rondavels on the Blyde River Canyon.

The morning mist that envelops the lowveld and Kruger National Park.