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September 24, 2012 at 8:00 AM

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U.S. Ambassador Gary Locke's humility a stark contrast with officiousness of Chinese leaders' behaviors

DownloadedFile.jpegWashington's former governor Gary Locke, who is now the U.S. ambassador to China, is making a good impression with at least one scholar.

"I think he's been a wonderful influence," says Shelley Rigger, the Brown Professor of East Asian Politics and chair of Political Science at Davidson College in North Carolina.

The different ways Locke has been perceived in China are a "great illustration that there is not just one China, said Rigger, speaking after appearing on a panel, "“Rising Powers: Challenges and Opportunities for the U.S.”, at the Association of Opinion Journalists Conference in Orlando last week.

Locke's personal style has been heartening for many in China, while also discomfiting for many leaders. The photo of him snapped at Seatac Airport, carrying his own backpack and buying his own coffee with a daughter at his elbow depicted the unassuming Locke familiar to those who know him in Washington state.

But it drew a stark contrast with behavior of Chinese leaders, who tend to travel with entourages who take care of mundane tasks. Rigger notes that when the ambassador's car was surrounded recently by an angry Beijing mob upset about island territorial claims, it was one car, not a motorcade.

"He has activated two very different but important impulses in the popular culture," said Rigger, after her talk at the Association of Opinion Journalists conference in Orlando last week.

Locke "is not the big ugly American everybody loves to hate, she said. People think their leaders are too aloof. They use Gary Locke to criticize their government. And government leaders use Gary Locke to make themselves look more important."

Locke's role in granting blind legal activist Chen Guangcheng sanctuary at the U.S. Embassy earned him a lot of respect on the matter of concern about China's treatment of dissidents. Though the episode was confusing, Locke's handling ended up looking good, Rigger said.

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