Gary Locke: The New Ambassador-Designate to China

On Wednesday, March 9, 2011, in US Government, by Todd Stein

The White House has announced President Obama’s intention to nominate Gary Locke, currently the Secretary of Commerce, as Ambassador to China. He would replace Jon Huntsman, who is leaving the post and is considering a run in the 2012 Republican primary.

If confirmed by the Senate, Secretary Locke would face huge tasks (currency, North Korea, the deteriorating rights situation) in a challenging environment (Beijing’s non-conciliatory attitude) and have big shoes to fill (Huntsman’s active role in the post).

What do we know about Gary Locke and what kind of Ambassador would he be, especially on issues close to us like human rights and Tibet?

Notably, he would be the first Chinese-American Ambassador to Beijing. He was born in Seattle; his parents and grandparents migrated to Washington State from Hong Kong.

He acquired a pro-business/pro-trade reputation both during his time as Governor of Washington (1997-2005) and as Commerce Secretary (2009-present).

On its face, such a reputation makes the human rights community nervous, as it suggests the person may put commercial interests ahead of values-based interests like democracy and human rights. It evokes recollection of the 1990s, when Democratic President Clinton de-linked Most Favored Nation status from human rights, and successfully pushed legislation to facilitate China’s entry into the World Trade Organization, absent of human rights conditions.

But consider that Gary Locke’s job as Commerce Secretary is as America’s top advocate for U.S. business. And Washington is home to Boeing and Microsoft, major suppliers to the Chinese market. Professionals like Secretary Locke know to adapt to the demands of a new job, and he is smart enough to know the importance of the human rights portfolio he inherits from Ambassador Huntsman.

Gary Locke

Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke and recent Ambassador to China nominee.

Locke’s record as Commerce Secretary was not without its exposure to issues related to human rights. In July 2009, he confronted the Chinese government over a plan to require all computers sold in China to have pre-loaded filtering software (called “green dam”). If implemented, it would have made U.S. software and computer manufacturers complicit in the Chinese Communist Party’s censorship regime.

In 2010, he established a task force to help protect the open flow of information over the Internet (as nations like China suppress the Internet for political control but also to gain a competitive trade advantage). And last month he spoke about the Chinese people’s desire for freedom of information and opined that the government’s crackdown on this freedom could have “disastrous consequences.”

As I mentioned, he has a high standard to meet when he gets to Beijing (again, if confirmed). Jon Huntsman has been praised by human rights activists for using his role as Ambassador to make the case for political prisoners and improvements in human rights. He has acted cleverly, such as his tour of the Wangfujing neighborhood in Beijing where a “Jasmine” protest was announced. Huntsman visited the remote Yushu earthquake site in Kham, and took a trip to Lhasa.

We have seen no record of Gary Locke on Tibet (although if any of our friends in Washington state have anything to report from his time as governor, please let us know). His confirmation hearings will be an opportunity for him to be asked questions about Tibet. Certainly, there is a long list of U.S. policy statements and initiatives on the shelf awaiting him, and we expect that they will be part of his copious briefing books.

Tibet supporters in the United States should make sure they let the Ambassador-designate know that they want Tibet to remain an integral part of the bilateral relationship with China.

3 Responses to “Gary Locke: The New Ambassador-Designate to China”

  1. Beth says:

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on sheryl foster.

  2. [...] range of economic and security matters.  How will he fare in his promotion of human rights, as my blog asked when he was nominated in March. “I will clearly and firmly advocate for upholding universal [...]

  3. Tenzin Thinley says:

    I live near Seattle and followed Gary Locke’s career for many years. In fact he was once my boss where I work.

    I have never heard him utter one word about Tibet or human rights issues in China. His Holiness the Dalai Lama visited Seattle in April 2008 and was greeted by all the local politicians including the Governor, Gary Locke was nowhere to be seen. He would rather sit in the high rises of Seattle(where he was a liason between Chinese businesses and the US market) than greet the champion of peace in our current age.

    Gary Locke also carried the Olympic Torch for the Beijing Olympics. He didn’t do that in the US as a US Citizen, but rather he went to China and carried it there.

    Gary Locke’s history with China is mostly associated with promoting business. But if you look at what’s available to purchase in any retail market, I think it was mostly to promote China’s business to the United States. He has been cozy with China for many years and has not stood up for human rights.

    Chinese Americans in general are not really interested in Human Rights issues in China. There is no “International Campaign for China”. Gary Locke is a Chinese American who has the opportunity to be a hero, to be a leader, to bring the values of America to China but I see his actions to the contrary.

    Checks out this link: It sums up Gary Locke, he used US law to rebuff a violation by China? He is a Chinese puppet in my opinion.

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