By Mick Krever, CNN
Sometimes, where you don’t go says as much as where you do.
At the end of his week-long, four-nation tour of Asia, the country that U.S. President Barack Obama didn’t visit looms largest: China.
“Our goal is not to counter China, our goal is not to contain China,” President Obama said after signing a security agreement with Philippine President Benigno Aquino. “Our goal is to make sure that international rules and norms are respected.”
The message is indicative of the tightrope he has had to walk over the course of his visit: reassure allies, but don’t frighten China.
“I think he and his entire administration have been striking a very good balance,” says Gary Locke, who until two months ago was a member of that very administration as U.S. ambassador to China.
“Just in the last several weeks and months there have been numerous high-level visits by top administration officials” to China, he told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour in an exclusive interview.
“The Administration [and] the President are paying a lot of attention to China, but also making sure that [the U.S.] pays attention to its other allies in the entire region.”
American allies have been put at ease by the American President’s visit, Locke said, and by his very public reiterations that the U.S. would stand by its treaty obligations.
“The United States has long indicated that it welcomes a growing and prosperous China – but a China that actually abides by international standards.”
China has territorial disputes with many of its allies, including two of the countries President Obama visited, Japan and the Philippines.
“Clearly he’s also sending a message to China that it needs to be very, very careful in terms of its alliances and what position it takes – whether it’s on Syria or what’s happening with Ukraine,” Locke said.
Before departing his ambassadorial post, Locke – who is of Chinese ancestry – was the recipient of a scathingly racist attack in an opinion piece published by a state-run newspaper in China.
The piece called him a “banana” – “yellow” on the outside and “white” on the inside.
“The [Chinese] citizens themselves expressed embarrassment and outrage over the tone and the substance of the article,” Locke said, saying that he was “gratified and honored” by their reaction.
“I have long said that I am proud of my Asian heritage, my Chinese heritage – proud of the contributions of China over thousands of years to civilization – but I am one hundred per cent American, and proud of all that America has brought to the modern world in terms of our values, our innovations, our symbol of freedom, hope, and democracy.”