Gary Locke, the U.S. ambassador to China who gave shelter to legal activist Chen Guangcheng, will step down early 2014 after 2 1/2 years as the first Chinese-American in the job.
The former Commerce Secretary told President Barack Obama this month of his decision to leave and rejoin his family in Seattle, according to an e-mailed statement from the U.S. embassy in Beijing today.
Locke’s time as ambassador was marked by his criticism of China’s human rights record, demand for better intellectual-property protection, as well as the move to protect Chen last year. While both countries have escalated trade disputes over rare-earth elements and solar products, leaders from the two sides have said relations are on the right track after a meeting between President Xi Jinping and Obama in June.
“Since becoming U.S. ambassador in China, Locke has made earnest efforts in promoting cooperation and exchange between China and the U.S.,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a briefing in Beijing today. “On that we express our compliments.”
In remarks to a conference on Nov. 18, Locke said the U.S. is not trying to constrain China and wants to expand cooperation. Since the embassy opened in 1979, past ambassadors to China usually served between two-to-four years, according to the embassy’s website.
“He is someone who is proud of his own Chinese heritage and respects China,” said Norm Page, who had worked with Locke at the China practice of law firm Davis Wright Tremaine LLP. “I think that has been the single strongest element of the job he has been able to do.”
Locke escorted Chen to a hospital after the blind activist fled detention at his home in eastern China to seek shelter at the embassy in Beijing. Chen was eventually allowed to leave for the U.S. Locke had also said in a Charlie Rose interview in January 2012 that the human rights climate in China has deteriorated, sparking a rebuttal from the Chinese government.
“We have advanced American values by meeting with religious leaders and human rights lawyers, and visiting Tibetan and Uighur ethnic minorities,” Locke said in the statement. “While our bilateral relationship is a complex one, I remain confident in the ability of our leaders to manage differences and increase cooperation in areas of mutual concern.”
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