Weight of high expectations

Gary Locke as ambassador will be under double-edged pressure to build bridges between the US and China

US Commerce Secretary Gary Locke is almost certain to become the first Chinese-American to serve as the US ambassador to China now that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has unanimously approved his nomination. Though the full Senate must still vote on his nomination, Locke should not have any worries about its outcome.

Since US President Barack Obama nominated him in March, Locke’s role as US ambassador to China has aroused a great deal of speculation both in China and the United States. That Locke, as US secretary of commerce, is one of the most important cabinet members to be appointed ambassador to China shows the importance the Obama administration attaches to the country. People’s interpretation of his appointment differs widely, though.

As secretary of commerce, Locke has participated in many Sino-US trade disputes and thus knows relatively well how to deal with China’s leadership. And the close relationship between him and Obama will help the US administration better handle bilateral relations with China.

Locke’s Chinese-American identity may help him win the recognition and acceptance of the Chinese people faster. As a rising Chinese-American political star, Locke is not only a role model for many overseas Chinese, but also an outstanding leader of the Democratic Party. These advantages have made the US administration lay its faith in Locke. In fact, the Obama administration expects him to more than deliver the goods.

It is well known that Chinese people who left the country because of wars or in search of better livelihoods have contributed to the development of China. Since people in China have long been proud of the extraordinary economic achievements of their overseas compatriots, it is natural for the public and the media to have expectations of Locke.

But people should not expect too much. Successful overseas Chinese may have a rather different understanding of their “country of origin”. Therefore, Chinese people should see Locke as a true American and his appointment as nothing out of the ordinary. We should stop giving importance to language and kinship.

Locke’s attitude toward China should decide the Chinese government’s response to his appointment. According to some media outlets in the US, Locke has, in recent weeks, taken a strong stand against China and criticized it on issues such as the yuan’s exchange rate, the Sino-US trade imbalance, copyright protection, human rights, and the nuclear issues in Iran and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. This makes Locke’s nomination a delicate issue for China. Even the international media agree that Locke cannot speak for China.

As US ambassador to China, the biggest difficulty for Locke will be to protect the US’ interests without irritating China too much. Let us not forget that as the US’ representative in China Locke is likely to take a tough stand on some of China’s policies. This becomes all the more important now, because Obama’s Democratic Party is preparing for the presidential election next year. No wonder, some critics say Obama has nominated Locke to “contain China with Chinese”.

It is expected that Locke will seek more benefits from China, but it is impractical and unfair to put all the blame on China just because of the US’ unfavorable trade balance with China. Locke wants to narrow the Sino-US trade imbalance and may take moves on other issues of mutual concern as well.

People in China and the US both have high expectations of Locke. But many Sino-US problems are too complicated and deep-rooted for just an ambassador to solve.

While it is natural for Locke to seek more interests for the US, it is also natural for Chinese to see him as one who can build a bridge over the uncertainties and difficulties in Sino-US relations, which are of great importance to the Asia-Pacific region and even the world. But China should treat him rationally – as an American.

The author is a professor of international studies, Renmin University of China.

Source: China daily

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