October 29th, 2009
10:53 AM GMT
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Gary Locke may be the top commerce official in America, but he's a rock star in China.

Locke was a hit with locals on a recent visit to China.
Locke was a hit with locals on a recent visit to China.

This week, the Chinese-American politician who is now U.S. Commerce Secretary, visited cities in the manufacturing heartland of China ahead of his high-level trade talks in Hangzhou.

Locke is joined by U.S. officials such as Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Trade Representative Ron Kirk, and Ambassador Jon Huntsman, who are here meeting with top Chinese officials including Vice Premier Wang Qishan.

I managed to catch up with Locke in Guangzhou, the capital of the province of Guangdong, where his grandfather was born. You would have thought Locke was a celebrity. During his tour of a Sam's Club superstore and a local university, Locke was mobbed by fans, press, and curious on-lookers all eager to catch a glimpse of their hometown hero.

Locke's grandfather lived in a village in this part of China before leaving for the United States in the hope of a better life. Grandfather Locke emigrated to Washington state where he took a job as a servant for a local family who lived one mile away from the Governor's Mansion. I wonder if Grandfather Locke ever dreamed his grandson would be serving people as well - as governor and now commerce secretary.

Locke told me his personal story is "thoroughly American" but that his Chinese heritage comes in handy in trade negotiations here. "I bring, perhaps, a greater understanding of the culture and history of the Chinese people," he said during our exclusive interview.

These days, the U.S. and China could use a little more understanding. Because of the economic crisis, the bond between the two trading partners has been stretched.

Earlier this year, the Obama administration slapped tariffs on Chinese tires sold in the U.S. Soon after, the Chinese threatened to cut off imports of American poultry products and auto parts.

Locke played down fears of a coming trade war. "When you look at the relationship of say brothers and sisters, the relationship when you are small and young might be very simplistic. But as the families get older they get into more complicated issues," he explained. "But it is the sign of a healthy relationship."

Locke insists the trade disputes won't distract the two nations from cooperating on larger issues such as climate change or regional security. However, even before Secretary Locke has left China, Beijing has informed Washington it is launching a trade investigation that could lead to new import duties on vehicles made by Detroit's struggling Big Three automakers (General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler), according to a U.S. auto industry official.

Hopefully, Locke's experience bridging two cultures will help bridge any economic split.

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Filed under: AsiaBusinessChina

soundoff (10 Responses)
  1. gogo

    there will be a democracy in China in 15 years at most. if not, my name is not gogo.

    October 30, 2009 at 9:38 pm |
  2. xiaoyu

    gary locke is an american. he has absolutely nothing to do with china. my fellow citizens are taking this way out of context.

    he is not a Chinese American. Chinese does not come first. He is an American secretary of commerce that happens to be Chinese. That is, he has absolutely nothing to do with our country, and should be treated no differently than any other foreigner. in fact, he should be seen more suspiciously, like your brother that laughed at you when you were poor, but now that you're rich, comes saying "sup man, hear you've been doing good, how bout borrowing your brother some cash?"

    November 3, 2009 at 2:08 am |
  3. Carlos

    We defintly need more citizens like Mr. Locke. His nomination as Secretary of Commerce was by no means a mere coincidence. The United state's government needs to keep up the good work in its decicions concerning hte Officials of this great Republic.

    November 4, 2009 at 12:21 pm |
  4. shabi

    xiaoyu, dont you mean hes an Chinese who happens to be in America intstead of the other way around

    November 4, 2009 at 1:49 pm |
  5. silver

    gogo, your name is not actually gogo, :P
    I agree with what xiaou said. Americans are not a honest nation. When we deal with them we have to be careful. Americans are the reason for all the conflicts and terrorists in the world. Just think about Al Quida, That is a CIA product made for fighting with Soviers.

    November 4, 2009 at 2:30 pm |
  6. GL

    Well, a person can be called Chinese American if at least one of his parents was Chinese (HK included of course) Yes, he might be American by education, but on the other hand, could you imagine that a minister or department head in China would be of western ancestry? (or even half western :))
    I don't and I guess that says something about a much more discriminative environment (or merely a fact that officials there are selected more based on personal allegiance and stereotypes than objective qualifications)

    November 5, 2009 at 2:45 pm |
  7. Jeni Vanminten

    Oh Oh Xiaoju, you can speak ! As long as it is about the 'suspicious foreigner' it's ok, yes?

    November 6, 2009 at 9:09 am |
  8. Guoping

    Silver, I disagree with what you said about "American is not a honest nation". I would say that the American politicians are not honest people, just like all politicians regardless of nations. However, most of American people are honest. Also, there is no such thing as Chinese-American, or American-Chinese. the fact is that there is no such thing as a pure American. Americans are all, Chinese, Mexican, British, Itatian, irish etc.... that is what melting pot is, and that is American made of. Bottom line is Americans love Amerca.

    November 11, 2009 at 4:29 am |
  9. Sade Mehtani

    Good day

    February 18, 2012 at 7:44 pm |
  10. Carlos

    miya より:Hi RyuVery good to hear from you. How's life in Boston?Actually there are lot's of Condos there which were converted in to laurxuy cond's from hotels before they were started their construction.I don't know the exact reson why, but anyway I saw some of them such us Jean Nouvel's and HdeM's around Soho. They are now under consrtuction. You will see Nouvel's has almost done the exterior, but the latter has just exposed its concrete structure so far.Of course their rents are surprising. While the new upper class are living in Brooklyn such as along L-line rising up the average incomes and rents of the areas, the luxury Manhattan areas such as around Soho are boosting up its prestigious states by rebuilding brand new buildings.What's also amazing is Prada in Soho designed by OMA has been rearranged the interior. Its first floor was originally designed as only a kind of show window'/ void space, and the basement was for retail for men/women. But now the first floor is just a men's floor and the basement floor is for women. The charming cabinet designed by SANAA seemed in no use. It seems the fundamental idea well-organized Programing space' has totally gone. It is sadly just a commercial space like others swallowed into Sohoism'.

    September 2, 2012 at 10:36 pm |

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