US Ambassador’s Frugality Prompts Praise, Suspicion

US ambassador to China Gary Locke has once again made headlines with his customary frugality, flying coach to the Boao Forum on Hainan and declining to stay at the conference’s official hotel, whose room prices were triple his official accommodation allowance. While many in China approvingly note the contrast between Locke’s modest habits and Chinese officials’ sometimes excessive spending, others smell a rat. From the South China Morning Post:

A reporter with Southern Television Guangdong said on her weibo microblog on Tuesday that Locke did not choose the five-star Sofitel, where other senior government officials were staying, because “it’s too expensive”, citing an aide to the envoy ….

Locke ended up in a four-star hotel nearby, where the most expensive suite costs 940 yuan (HK$1,159 [US$149]) a night.

But blogger Nan Musang wrote that Locke was putting on a charade.

“The rule in the US is that the lodging cost for a conference can be reimbursed even if it exceeds the budget,” he wrote.

“When Locke served as the US secretary of commerce, his staff were reportedly travelling frequently by first class and staying in luxury hotels,” Nan said.

Li Yuan, managing editor of The Wall Street Journal’s Chinese-language edition, discussed the issue on the newspaper’s Asia Today webcast:

Shanghaiist translated the original weibo post by Southern Television’s Li Jiajia, as well as a follow-up arguing against the sceptics:

Gary Locke arrived today at the Bo’ao Forum. I thought he’d join many of the other heads of state at the forum’s official hotel (the 5-star Sofitel Hotel). His aide told me, “No, it’s too expensive. The rates provided by that hotel are three times the rate allowed by the US government for official visits and so the ambassador cannot stay there.” Hence, the ambassador has decided to stay at the Qianzhouwan Holiday Hotel, which is nearby ….

This really isn’t Gary Locke putting on a show. Yesterday while sitting in at one of the sessions at the Forum, I met one of the Embassy staff that I knew from before and it was only through our small talk that I found that the ambassador wasn’t staying at the Forum’s official hotel. Because this was rather sensitive matter, I only published it on my Weibo after verifying the information myself. This wasn’t a publicity exercise by the US Embassy, it was something that I as a journalist dug out for myself.

Former Google China chief Kaifu Lee also defended Locke, citing a table of US diplomats’ expense limits later republished by chinaSMACK along with some NetEase posters’ responses:

llkk84918 [网易江西省南昌市网友]: Haha! Every day our enemies get worse while we get better by the day~ Just look at how poor the American imperialists are! Just one of our village mayors are more than a hundred times more powerful than these so-called diplomats!

三体星人 [网易浙江省杭州市网友]: I think this must be a reason why America is strong and powerful.

网易香港网友: President Obama and his wife spend tens of millions of USD just vacationing every year, this is just a few diplomats sent here to win favor from the mainland’s American running dogs.


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