Gary Locke resigns and is leaving China. As the Chinese-American U.S. Ambassador to China, Locke leaves China with the image of a modest diplomat. His frugal lifestyle was something the average Chinese citizen could connect with. His conduct was very different from Chinese state officials, who prefer an authoritarian swagger, an extravagant life, and a worldview that looks down on the populace. This contrast was refreshing for the Chinese people, and embarrassing for the Chinese authorities.
Locke was spotted toting his backpack and standing in line for coffee at Starbucks before getting to the embassy in Beijing. Unlike the average Chinese official, Locke refused to fly first class. He only stayed at inexpensive hotels. He would show his respect for the everyday citizen by making stops to visit migrant workers. Throughout his term, he traveled and conducted himself in a way that the average person could relate to.
Chinese people welcomed his civilian image and showered him with admiration, particularly when he successfully dealt with the Wang Lijun and Chen Guangcheng incidents, and openly criticized the Chinese government for human rights abuses.
On Jan 17, 2014, Gary Locke gave his farewell speech at Renmin University School of Law in Beijing. His 5,000 word speech did not include compliments to the ruling communist government, but expressed thanks to the warm reception granted him by the Chinese people, and his excitement about being in the land of his ancestors. Besides these things, the majority of his speech focused on American rule of law and freedom of expression, and their significance.
First, Locke stressed that constitutional rule of law ensured the ability to defend the common person. The rights granted the average citizen is the cornerstone of the American legal system.
Secondly, Locke stressed that supreme power should be restricted. In the United States, no one, including the President, may override the law. He cited former President Nixon having been forced to resign in 1974 as an example.
In addition, Locke stressed that the rule of law is to protect the legitimacy of the government. In a democratic country like the United States, the rule of law provides legitimacy for the government because of fair and transparent channels to address issues.
Although Gary Locke’s departure speech did not directly point out that the rule of law and freedom of expression could not be carried out under a dictatorship, his speech was undoubtedly an embarrassment to the Chinese Communist Party, and also a revelation to the people and the Communist Party members currently in office.