Gary Locke, U.S. Ambassador to China, Stepping Down

U.S. Ambassador Gary LockeGary Locke says he’s informed President Obama that he will step down from his post as ambassador to China.

Locke took the post in August 2011, after having served as U.S. Secretary of Commerce and two-term governor of the State of Washington.

He says that one of his greatest achievements was helping to reduce waiting times for a visa to three to five days from highs of 70 to 100 days, which has significantly increased Chinese business and tourism travel to the U.S.

That was certainly a joint effort. It took an executive order from President Obama in January 2012 to get the State Department to make timely visa processing a priority. It also took an order by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to waive interviews for applicants previously issued U.S. visas. Locke may well have been instrumental both in encouraging those policy decision and in executing the policies on the ground in China.

One of the most controversial moments during his term as Ambassador was when Locke granted refuge at the U.S. Embassy to blind activist Chen Guangcheng after he escaped from house arrest in 2012. This just days before then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in China for an important bilateral dialogue.

The first Chinese-American to serve as ambassador to China, Locke was closely watched by the Chinese public. Photographs of him standing in line with a  backpack to buy coffee at Starbucks and carrying his own luggage have gone  viral on Internet sites here, with netizens asking whether Chinese officials would take on such humble tasks.

Locke said he’s resigning for personal reasons related to the education  of his children, two of whom are in high school.

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