U.S. Ambassador to China Gary Locke gave an exclusive interview to Newsweek about his posting in Beijing, which has not lacked drama. He first discusses the day that former Chongqing police chief Wang Lijun entered the U.S. Consulate in Chengdu, seeking asylum:
Wang Lijun, known as the Eliot Ness of China for his ruthless campaign against organized crime, told a riveting story of how his one-time mentor, a local party secretary by the name of Bo Xilai, was out to kill him because he knew too much about the alleged poisoning and murder of a British businessman, Neil Heywood, who had known Bo and his wife. It was “fascinating, eye-popping revelations,” Locke told Newsweek in an exclusive interview. “My first reaction was ‘oh, my God, I mean OH, MY GOD!’”
The next 120 days in the life of the new ambassador—which included dealing with diplomatic fallout after the daredevil escape of blind activist Chen Guangcheng—would be nothing short of historic.
Given Bo’s stature within the Communist Party, Wang’s presence at the consulate presented a delicate situation. Upping the stakes, Bo—realizing that Wang had gone to the Americans—dispatched armed security forces to surround the U.S. Consulate in Chengdu. But Wang was not about to surrender to Bo and instead summoned people he trusted to escort him out of the embassy and onward to Beijing—away from the clutches of the local party chief and his cronies. (Later, Wang was charged with treason, Bo was purged from the top echelons of the Communist Party, and Bo’s wife was charged in the murder of Heywood.) “It felt,” Locke said, “like something out of a spy thriller.”
The 62-year-old Chinese-American would soon find himself at the center of further extraordinary events that would demand the highest degree of diplomatic dexterity by the ambassador, who, when Wang showed up, was just six months into the job.
Chinese responses to Locke vary between admiration and disgust. CDT’s Anne Henochowicz put together a slideshow for Foreign Policy which looks at various images of Locke in Chinese netizens’ eyes.