The Ethnicity of the U.S. Ambassador Does Not Alter America’s China Policy

On March 9, U.S. President Barack Obama formally nominated Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke as the next ambassador to China, succeeding the incumbent ambassador Jon Huntsman, who will leave in April. According to American law, this nomination has not yet been approved by Congress. However, based on Gary Locke’s situation, the possibility that Congress will veto this nomination is very small. After the announcement of Obama’s nomination, a majority of the senators welcomed the approach. Therefore, the Chinese will welcome the first “compatriot” U.S. ambassador a month later if there’s no accident.

This nomination shows that the Obama administration attaches great importance to relations with China, because from a historical view, the situation that an incumbent minister is made an ambassador is seldom seen in the U.S. Many ambassador positions are filled by former officials, and what is special this time is that Gary Locke is currently in a relatively important position — Secretary of Commerce. As for the nominee being a Chinese-American, Chinese citizens obviously feel warm about it, which can achieve the goal of attempting to narrow the distance between the two countries, since everybody knows that the Chinese people think highly of this “compatriot” friendship. In fact, Obama didn’t deny this kind of consideration. He claimed during the announcement of the nomination that the China-U.S. relationship is one of the most important bilateral relations in the 21st century; and as a descendant of Chinese immigrants, Gary Locke is the right person to carry forward the bilateral cooperation. Since Chinese-American Wang Xiaomin has taken office as the U.S. envoy before the lunar new year, after Gary Locke takes office, the first- and second-in-command at the U.S. embassy in China will both be Chinese-Americans.

This news has made the Chinese public full of anticipation. Many people think that Gary Locke’s Chinese background may make the U.S. have more “pro-China” policies in the country; if there’s trouble between China and the United States, Gary Locke will have more sympathy and understanding toward China.

As a matter of fact, this kind of Chinese way of thinking is very typical of the East; most Americans, including Gary Locke himself, cannot understand this. Even though Locke is Chinese-American, he is also a professional politician after all; dealing with the relationship between national interests and personal blood background is the first lesson that all American minorities should learn when beginning their political career. If he cannot even handle this relationship, Gary Locke couldn’t have achieved today’s position. This is like Obama being of Kenyan descent, but he will never abuse his presidential power to fulfill Kenya’s interests at the expense of American interests.

In fact, being of Chinese descent or understanding China is nothing like being “pro-China.” For example, former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is a typical “China expert,” this man can not only speak fluent Chinese, but also has an authentic Chinese name. His diplomacy toward China, however, is far less friendly than his predecessor John Howard. Not only that, if one fails to handle it properly, a Chinese background may even become a burden, restraining him from being friendly to China. From a historical view, daring to break through pressure of public opinion and developing friendship with China is more likely to happen with conservative politicians instead. Nixon is a typical example. Most Chinese people feel very friendly toward the name “Nixon,” and regard him as the American founder of the China-U.S. relationship. But actually, the reason why Nixon could have risen from the extremely competitive U.S. domestic political arena was that he had previously had a strong anti-communism stance. Because of that, it was unnecessary for him to worry about being accused of being a “communization element,” and that’s why he boldly began the “ice-breaking” journey to China, which has greatly changed the historical progress.

Clearly, pinning hope on Gary Locke’s Chinese background to soften America’s policy toward China is only one side’s wish. Gary Locke’s ambassadorial duties don’t give him such power, and his own political literacy also doesn’t allow him to be so naive. In the former case, the ambassador has a “connective” role to deliver information between two countries; people who constitute diplomatic policy are the president and the secretary of state. In the latter case, Gary Locke’s footing toward China is no softer than any other U.S. officials. At the June 2010 hearing of U.S. trade policies toward China, Gary Locke claimed that he would make every effort to knock off China’s trade barriers, and he was ready to take China to the WTO if the dialogue failed. On other issues, like the openness of China’s market and the RMB exchange rate, this “compatriot” also expressed similarly strong positions. Therefore, pointing to China’s public opinion that expects Gary Locke to be more “pro-China,” the British “Financial Times” indicated in an article that if Chinese officials contacted Locke with such an attitude after he takes office, they would be very shocked because Locke has always actively defended America’s interests in China-U.S. trade as the secretary of Commerce.

In fact, the development trend of China-U.S. relations is based on the two countries’ mutual strategic demands. At present, the mutual China-U.S. strategic demands show a shifting trend, as China becomes increasingly active and positive in the relationship. Under this condition, we don’t need to pin our hope on the change of U.S. diplomatic personnel to improve and develop the bilateral relationship, not to mention the fact that this kind of hope is simply unrealistic. On the contrary, Gary Locke’s Chinese background may contribute to the Chinese people’s growing affection and affinity toward the U.S. government, which may lead China to constitute a more “pro-U.S.” foreign policy. This is another important factor behind Obama’s nomination of Gary Locke as the ambassador to China.

From Huanqiuwang (Chinese article is translated into English)

Leave a Reply