The American ambassador to China has usually been an enigmatic figure to the Chinese people. Sure John Huntsman "speaks" Chinese (he really does just not often in public), and has Chinese daughters, he remained a mystery to the Chinese public during his tenure as ambassador. Gary Locke on the other hand, has captivated the attention of the Chinese internet by doing pretty much the most mundane things.
Recently Locke was seen in Hainan province, a resort island in the south of China, for the Boao Forum, a yearly meeting of leaders and academics to talk about the most pressing issues in Asia. Lucky for Locke, the attention given to him by netizens had nothing to do with anything he said or did at the forum but instead of what he didn't do.
A reporter for Guangdong's Southern Television, found out through an aide of Mr. Locke's that he was not staying at the ritzy hotel that accompanied the convention center. Shocked by the fact that Mr. Locke was not residing the in same hotel as most of the Chinese leaders were, the reporter dug deeper to find out what the deal was. The aide revealed that Ambassador Locke could not afford to stay at the convention center because US government regulations state that government employees are only allowed to stay in hotels within budget, Locke's budget in China being $177US a night. The hotel at the convention center costs 2645 RMB a night, that's $419 USD!
In awe by the frugality of the US ambassador, the reporter went out to verify that Ambassador Locke was indeed staying at a cheaper hotel. She then posted the information on her weibo account (Chinese micro-blog). Almost instantly her post has garnered over 16,000 official reposts and over 2000 comments.
The majority of the comments were rather in awe that the Chinese American Locke is so frugal. Many commenters lamented the fact that Chinese officials spent too much money, while some started spouting anti-American rhetoric on how Americans owe China vast amounts of money.
This isn't the first time that Locke has captured the attention of Chinese netizens. When Locke was on his way to become the ambassador, Chinese netizens caught a picture of Locke at an airport buying his own Starbucks in Seattle.
So far Locke has done nothing wrong in the eyes of Chinese netizens aside from being America's ambassador to China. Let's hope Mr. Locke stays squeaky clean throughout his duration in Beijing.
Gary Locke in the Limelight again [The Shanghaiist]
(Top photo: Mike Fiala | AP)