As Gary Locke, a third generation Chinese American, stepped down as ambassador to Beijing this week, a state-run news agency compared him to a banana, yellow on the outside and white inside.
In a signed commentary, China News Service accused Locke of interfering in China’s internal affairs and trying to strengthen pro-American forces in the country during his two year tenure. Locke’s Chinese ancestors, the commentary declared, would have kicked him out of home if they had known his future orientation.
Well, well, well. Chinese nationalist ire against Locke is not very different from the Indian bristling at New York prosecutor Preet Bharara’s pursuit of charges against an Indian diplomat, Ms. Devyani Khobragade.
Nationalists in Beijing and Delhi have trouble coming to terms with Americans of Chinese and Indian origin. They eagerly embrace their ethnic kin who make money and fame in the United States. But they are also quick to condemn American expatriates when they run foul of the national narrative in China and India.
Back in 2011, Locke arrived in Beijing to much adulation among ordinary Chinese people when a video of him carrying a backpack and buying a cup of coffee in Seattle airport en-route to Beijing went viral on social media.
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The shock was multiplied when Locke and family were seen moving their own lugguage when they landed in Beijing. Accustomed seeing the Chinese officialdom flaunt in public their many priviliges, the simple manner of a high American official generated much discussion among Chinese netizens.
Locke’s frequent calls on China to improve its human rights were deeply resented by the nationalists. As the news wire explained, a banana eventually begins to rot. In its commentary, the China News Service accused Locke of “inciting evil winds, lighting evil fires” during his visits to Xinjiang and Tibet, where he criticised Chinese authorities for their treatment of ethnic minorities.
The commentary also accused him of being a “guide dog” for helping the blind Chinese human rights activist, Chen Guangcheng seek shelter in the U.S. embassy in 2012 after he escaped from a prison.
In his farewell speech on Thursday, Locke was unapologetic. Locke said he was proud of Chinese heritage and recalled his three visits as ambassador to his ancestral home in Guangdong province.
At the same time, Locke declared, “I’m thoroughly American and proud of the great values that America has brought to the entire world and all that America stands for’’. He also claimed a significant improvement of U.S.-China relations under his watch.
For China and India, their successful diasporas in America are indeed valuable bridges to the United States. But nationalists in both countries will be deeply disappointed if they forget that the expatriates are citizens of the U.S. and their primary loyalty is, rightly, with the American state.