Laid-back U.S. China envoy causes a stir

U.S.  ambassador to China goes viral

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Story highlights

  • Gary Locke is U.S. ambassador to China
  • Was the first Asian-American to be governor of state in continental U.S.
  • Grandfather came from Guangdong province in southern China
  • Relaxed style contrasts with Chinese officials

He's the ambassador who carries his own bags and the can for the U.S. in China.

Gary Locke represents the U.S. in Beijing and is the diplomat whose laid-back style has caused a stir in a country more suited to rigid and distant state officials.

A third generation Chinese-American whose father fought for the U.S. during the Second World War, Locke was the governor of Washington State before becoming Commerce Secretary under President Barack Obama's administration. He moved to Beijing in August to become arguably the country's most important diplomat.

Even before he had entered China to take up his post he came under the scrutiny of China's vibrant social media community.

Photos posted on micro-blogging site Sina Weibo of Locke and his six-year-old daughter buying a coffee at Seattle airport and later carrying his own luggage caused more froth among "netizens" than a cappuccino. Many praised his humility compared to Chinese officials, some others accused him that he was part of a stealthy plot to strengthen U.S. influence in China.

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"I was completely stunned and floored (by the reaction). Who cares what you're doing back in the States. This is how most American public officials are. I consider myself an everyday person," he said.

Inside the U.S. embassy in Beijing

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Easing in to being a photo opportunity for Chinese citizens, he's encouraged by the use of social media in the country.

"We need to take advantage of the new methods of communication," he said.

"We really want to use that as a way of showcasing what America's all about and getting our views of world affairs out to them, and really encouraging people to use the social media to communicate -- not just among themselves in China -- but really with people around the world."

In his spare time Locke admits to being a DIY junkie, happy to get his hands dirty with plumbing, but getting to grips with U.S.-China relations over issues such as intellectual property rights, Taiwan and human rights will prove the real challenge.

"We think its important that China follow their own commitments, their own principles ... these are universal human rights," says Locke.

As a well-established salesman for the U.S. in his former role as Commerce Secretary, Locke is keen to talk up closer U.S.-China relations.

"Very few things in the world today can be solved without the active collaboration of both China the United States. We in America have much to offer China and we really need to encourage that collaboration with China."