Gary F. Locke, U.S. Ambassador to the People’s Republic of China
On March 9, 2011, President Barack Obama nominated Gary Locke to be the 10th Ambassador of the United States of America to the People’s Republic of China. He was confirmed by the Senate on July 27, 2011 and was sworn in on August 1, 2011. He assumed duty as the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to the People’s Republic of China on August 13, 2011.
Previously, Ambassador Locke served as the Secretary of Commerce where he helped implement President Obama’s ambitious agenda to turn around the economy and put people back to work.
As the administration’s point person for achieving the President’s National Export Initiative, he presided over a 17 percent increase in exports from 2009 to 2010, while exports to China saw a 32 percent increase.
Ambassador Locke also oversaw a significant first step in the president’s export control reform effort that strengthens national security, while making U.S. companies more competitive by easing their licensing burden for exports to partners and allies.
Before his appointment to the President’s Cabinet, Ambassador Locke served two terms as Governor of Washington, the nation’s most trade-dependent state. He expanded the sale of Washington products and services by leading 10 productive trade missions to Asia, Mexico and Europe. During the eight years of the Locke administration, Washington State gained 280,000 jobs despite two national recessions.
As both Governor and Commerce Secretary, Locke’s innovations in government efficiency, customer focus, and priority based budgeting, as well as successful and under-budget management of high risk initiatives, have won him acclaim by nationally recognized authors and organizations, including Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.
Along with his longstanding commitment to public service, Ambassador Locke has extensive experience working with China. As Secretary of Commerce, he co-chaired two sessions of the U.S.-China Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade that resulted in important changes to Chinese trade policy, helping to level the playing field for U.S. businesses exporting to and operating in China. As Governor of Washington, he successfully strengthened economic ties between China and Washington State, more than doubling the state’s exports to China to over $5 billion per year. As a partner in the Seattle office of the international law firm, Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, he co-chaired the firm’s China practice.
Ambassador Locke is the first Chinese-American to serve as Ambassador to China, as Secretary of Commerce and as Governor. His grandfather emigrated from China to Washington State, initially finding employment as a servant, working in exchange for English lessons. His father, also born in China, was a small business owner, operating a grocery store where Ambassador Locke worked while receiving his education from Seattle’s public school system.
Ambassador Locke earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from Yale University and a law degree from Boston University. He is married to Mona Lee Locke and they have three children together: Emily, Dylan, and Madeline.
Q. What do your role and responsibilities in China mean to you personally?
A. As a child of Chinese immigrants growing up in the state of Washington, having the opportunity to represent America, the land of my birth, and to represent American values was surely beyond any dream I could have had.
My grandfather left Taishan in the 1890s for the United States to work as a houseboy in Olympia, Washington, in exchange for English language lessons. He returned after a few years to start a family in Taishan, where my father and his siblings were born; went back to Washington State to work, and sent money back to China to support his family before bringing them over to the United States when my dad was 13.
When I was elected governor of Washington State, I moved into the Governor’s residence, which was only one mile away from where my grandfather used to work washing dishes and sweeping floors. We joked that it took the Locke family one hundred years to move that one single mile.
But my story is like the story of millions of Chinese-Americans and indeed immigrants from around the world who have contributed so much to America’s success. Make no mistake about it: I am here to represent the United States and the American people. But I have always been proud of my Chinese heritage. I feel doubly fortunate to say both those things.
It is America, and America’s promise as a land of freedom, equality and opportunity, that I represent when serving the president and the American people as the United States ambassador to China.
Q. Are you optimistic about business relations between the United States and China?
A. With the help of many businesses and organizations, the U.S.-China relationship has become perhaps the most important bilateral trading relationship in the world. China is a top destination for American exports, behind just Canada and Mexico. And America is the number one national market for Chinese exports.
Yet, it’s not sustainable. The debt-fueled consumption binge in developed countries like America is over. And countries like China are beginning to realize that there are limits to purely export-driven growth. That’s why we need a more equitable commercial relationship. And it is within our reach. The United States is doing its part to facilitate global adjustments by increasing private savings and exports, as well as taking steps to bring down its long-term fiscal deficits to a sustainable level.
Under a new Trade and Investment Initiative, our embassy will work with U.S. and Chinese businesses and entrepreneurs and local governments to increase bilateral trade and ties between the U.S. and throughout China. We hope to build on the recent growth in U.S. exports which has been key to America’s economic recovery – worldwide exports in 2010 grew by 17% over 2009 and exports to China grew by 32%. We saw growth again last year when U.S. exports to China were up 13% from 2010.
The more U.S. companies export their Made in USA goods and services, the more they produce. And the more they produce the more workers they need. And that means jobs for Americans. And, of course, we’re talking about goods and services that are highly valued and in great demand – that can meet the needs of the Chinese people and improve their quality of life.
Q. Chinese leadership has made the rebalancing of its economy one of the cornerstones of its recent five-year plan. What do you see as emerging opportunities, particularly in the technology sectors?
A. China is aiming to promote domestic consumption through a variety of measures, such as boosting the minimum wage for its workers and building an improved social safety net. Changes like these will hasten the rise of a middle class that wants the same cars, appliances, fashion, medical care and other amenities that have long been enjoyed by consumers in the Western world. All this means greater opportunities for American companies to sell their made-in-U.S.A. goods and services to China.
The Chinese government is also putting an intensive focus on strategic emerging industries, with more high-value work in areas like healthcare, energy and high-technology. They have signaled that they want foreign businesses to help develop these sectors by entering joint ventures and by conducting more research and development in China. These areas of growth and government support are where I see the most opportunities.
Q. Is there any new initiative or big project that you are engaged in or hope to start in the future that will help further these opportunities?
A. As President Obama has said, our number one priority in the United States is job creation. Over the next year I’m committed to leading five trade and investment missions to China’s emerging cities. We simply cannot wait for the Commerce Department or the Energy Department and other governors and mayors to lead trade missions here to China. There is no reason why the Embassy and the Consulates here can’t initiate these trade missions on our own.
Q. What will be the focus of these trade and investment missions?
A. For these missions, our Embassy and Consulates will recruit trade delegations with a focus on specific high-growth sectors such as clean and renewable energy, transportation, health care, aviation, information and communication technologies. Our missions will provide U.S. companies with better access to provincial and local governments and to potential buyers and customers. And needless to say, however, close cooperation with the U.S. companies who know how to get things done here, will be key to the success of these efforts.
While on these missions, we will also help Chinese companies and entrepreneurs better understand the benefits and ease of investing in the U.S. by establishing factories, facilities, operations and offices.
Q. One of your top priorities as an ambassador is to reduce the wait times to obtain visas to travel to the United States. Why is that important to you?
A. As China develops economically, more of its citizens will visit the United States for tourism, business, and education and to visit family and friends. We know that if want to strengthen our commercial relationship with China and create jobs in America we need to make it easier for the Chinese to travel to the United States for business and for leisure.
In the 2011 fiscal year, the Embassy and Consulates throughout China processed one million visa applications for the first time – an increase of more than 34% over the previous year, and 123% in the previous five years. The Department of Commerce expects that first-time Chinese travelers to the United States will triple in the next five years.
Q. What are your suggestions for businesses in China that might want to do more business with the United States?
A. The U.S. is working to encourage more Chinese investment in the United States. Indeed, any sensible international investors should be looking at the United States market where they will find the richest large consumer market in the world, an educated workforce, strong intellectual property protections, and very dynamic capital markets.
Between 2005 and 2010, China was the fastest growing source of foreign direct investment in the United States. But many Chinese businesses still have misunderstandings about how they can operate or establish operations in the United States.
Although the U.S. has a strong investment climate overall, some businesses still have difficulty understanding the variety of tax structures and tax incentives among the 50 states, as well as navigating multiple federal agencies regarding permits and other requirements.
That’s why the Obama administration recently announced a new initiative called Select USA. It’s the first coordinated federal effort to aggressively pursue and win new business investment in the United States while cutting red tape and removing barriers to new investment. If Chinese companies want to establish businesses and operations in America, Select USA will help connect Chinese investors with U.S., state, and local governments that are eager to attract their investment.
Our embassy efforts to attract Chinese investment to the U.S. will extend beyond the five trade and investment missions. We will also partner with existing initiatives by such organizations as the U.S.-China Business Council, AmCham, and others. The United States is doing everything it can to make our investment and commercial environment as open and appealing as possible.
We’re welcoming more Chinese companies to the U.S. every day.
Q. In what ways does education play a critical role in enhancing investments between the U.S. and China?
A. In the field of education, China is gaining access to world-class universities and colleges in the U.S. In 2009, President Obama announced the 100,000 Strong Initiative, his administration’s signature effort to increase the number of American students learning Mandarin and studying abroad in China – a significant, long-term investment in the shared progress of our countries.
Likewise, more Chinese students are traveling to the U.S. for studies. With this growing trend of exchange, American students benefit from the opportunity to forge bonds with China’s future leaders and business professionals. This promotes the kind of mutual understanding that will be so important to our two peoples in the years ahead.
Q. What advice might you give to your friends and colleagues back home in Washington about living and conducting business successfully in China?
A. I vividly remember my very first visit to China. It was actually to Shanghai. We came in late in the evening from the airport in 1988. Everywhere around us were just millions and millions of bicycles. I remember seeing young men, teenagers and young men with their girlfriends or dates on the handlebars, a lot of parents with their children clinging tightly to their backs. Everywhere we went, we saw bicycles.
Today’s Shanghai skyline is dotted with more than 400 skyscrapers, some of the most imaginative, breathtaking examples of architecture you can find in the world. The bike paths, the roads that we saw filled with bicycles, have been replaced by elevated freeways, trains, and subways, shuttling people and commerce at a very frenetic pace.
Shanghai has been at the forefront of an economic transformation of historic proportions, and China has every right to be proud of all that they have accomplished in such a short period of time. Hundreds of millions of people have been lifted out of poverty and into a rising and ever-growing middle class. As more Chinese become members of the middle class the demand for American-made goods will increase.
China’s remarkable growth was sparked by its own economic reforms, ingenuity, and hard work. Yet it was also made possible by greater access to international markets, new technologies, and direct investment from the United States and other major economies.
We want to continue to focus on ensuring that U.S. companies can compete on a level playing field here in China and operate in the same open and fair environment that Chinese companies enjoy in America.
It is important that new-comers to China understand that China’s legal system is relatively new. China is working to strengthen intellectual property protection, but much more needs to be done. Companies should always take the proper precautions to protect their brands and products.
Commercial engagement, built on open markets with fair and effective rules, is the foundation of the healthy, strong and continually growing trade relationship we envision for China and the United States.
I’ve been back to China, on many occasions in a variety of different capacities — as Governor, a private citizen working for a law firm, as Commerce Secretary, and now as United States Ambassador. My long professional history of engagement with China has taken commitment and dedication, which is required from anyone determined to establish themselves in China.
If you can’t travel to China, consider electronic representation. The number of ‘netizens’ in China recently reached a little more than 500 million, making the internet a useful tool for strengthening bonds and sharing information.
We use all forms of communication including blogging and the electronic media to spread the word about our mission here in China, which is to increase friendship between the people of the United States and China, and to really promote win/win opportunities that can help China meet its goal of modernization, harmonious society, raising the quality of life for the people of China, as well as creating jobs for the people of America.
I really believe that we have this opportunity as two great nations to provide the leadership for the entire world so that the history books a hundred years from now will say that it was the United States and China in partnership that made the planet both a safer and a better place to live, work and to raise a family.