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The man standing between the U.S. and China

November 27th, 2012
05:47 PM ET

By Mick Krever, CNN

If diplomacy is a tightrope walk, Gary Locke, as the U.S. ambassador to China, walks one of the thinnest.

To listen to the 2012 U.S. presidential candidates, China is an economic cheater, global bully, and human rights violator that the U.S. needs to wrestle under control.

In a debate last month with his republican challenger, President Barack Obama said that China is “an adversary, but also a potential partner.”

That may be the reality of a political campaign, but the reality now for the governments of the United States and China is that despite very real differences, the two countries – entwined economically and in foreign policy – need each other more than perhaps ever.

“We do have disagreements,” Locke told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Tuesday. “And we’re publicly and privately constantly urging the Chinese to reexamine some of their policies.” 

China's top 5 challenges ahead

Part of the difficulty for Locke and his boss, President Obama, is that China is itself undergoing a confusing once-in-a-decade political transition.

Xi Jinping, who just took over as the head of China’s Communist Party, has closer ties to the U.S. than most of his colleagues, having lived in Iowa in the 1980s.

Yet in the shrouded world of Chinese politics, his potential policies as president remain unknown.

In 2009, Xi took a thinly veiled swipe at the United States, saying there are “some bored foreigners with full bellies who have nothing better to do than point fingers at us.”

But last month, when he took over the chairmanship of the Communist Party, he took a tough line on China’s internal problems.

“The problems among our party members of corruption, bribe-taking, being out of touch with the people, undue emphasis on formalities and bureaucracy must be addressed with great effort,” Xi said earlier this month. “The whole party must be vigilant against them.”

Locke acknowledged that Xi’s remarks were “remarkable,” but for the U.S. ambassador the strategy is “wait and see.”

“I think there’s a lot of hope among the Chinese people,” Locke said. Xi has appointed a vice premier, “who’s a highly-respected individual, that the United States government and business people are very familiar with and have had a very good working relationship with,” to lead the anti-corruption campaign.

The internal issue on which China receives perhaps the most attention is Tibet, the region that has long struggled for independence.

Self-immolations on the rise in Tibet

In September, Locke made a rare trip to meet with ethnic Tibetans – human rights, he said, are “a fundamental part” of U.S. foreign policy.

“Obviously the United States is very concerned about the situation – the heightened tensions in the Tibetan areas, the deplorable self-immolations, and of course just the policies of the Chinese government at all levels.”

Understanding Chinese politics is often an exercise in examining the seemingly mundane and insignificant – in this case, analysts think they may have found a clue to Xi’s thoughts on Tibet in the fact that his father, a Mao-era revolutionary, was known to have worn a watch given to him by the Dalai Lama.

Walking his tightrope, like any good diplomat, Locke made sure to emphasize that China and the U.S. “have a good working relationship.”

“I really believe that as the two largest economies in the world,” he said, “China and the United States have a great opportunity to solve the problems not just facing the United States and China, but actually to provide leadership to the entire world.”

Check out CNN's newest series: 'On China'

CNN’s Claire Calzonetti produced this piece for television.

Filed under:  China • Latest Episode
soundoff (24 Responses)
  1. Sadd

    One man can definitely stop all these self-immolations.
    The Dalai Lama.
    All he has to do is to condemn self-immolations.
    No one has a right to take away a life, including your own.
    So why is the Dalai Lama not condemning self-immolations?
    How is he able to let his own people take their own lives and in such painful way?
    Why doesnt he stop it by simply saying that it is not right to self-immolate?
    Surely he knows full well that by sinply condemning the act, all self-immolations will stop.
    Why does he not do it?

    November 28, 2012 at 12:29 am | Reply
    • Tim Liang

      exactly. I want to know, too. and this is the very reason i do not respect the 14th Dalai Lama. In the past, Dalai Lama often had support from the Chinese Emperor. there is something going on in Tibet that is extremely censored. can't side with the Tibetans because their 'cause' is destroyed by the Dalai Lama's wishy-washiness and reluctance to denounce self-immolation. can't side with the Chinese because the government is just as bad to Chinese as Tibetans (one-child policy is mainly for Han Chinese). The CPC doesn't discriminate when it comes down to 'rebels'. so wth is going on?

      November 28, 2012 at 5:21 pm | Reply
    • exileTibetan

      Chinese government has been telling that Dalai Lama is not true leader of Tibetan People. If that is so why china want Dalai Lama to condemn the Self-immolation. You are in a free world so check youtube and see for yourself why Dalai Lama cannot condemn self-immolation. Moreover, the question is not about condemning self-immolation but rather why Tibetans are setting themselves on fire. Self-Immolation toll has reached 87 and it's high time Chinese government acknowledge there is a Tibet problem and take measures to resolve the crisis rather than accusing H.H. Dalai Lama. H.H.Dalai Lama just want genuine autonomy for Tibet. The whole world knows this except Chinese government.

      November 29, 2012 at 3:10 am | Reply
    • Dg Canada

      Early on the Dalai Lama condemned the self immolations. For example,
      He now explains his more neutral position: “Now, the reality is that if I say something positive, then the Chinese immediately blame me,” he said. “If I say something negative, then the family members of those people feel very sad. They sacrificed their… life. It is not easy. So I do not want to create some kind of impression that this is wrong.”
      His Holiness is a very intelligent and thoughtful man. My opinion of him is that he seldom engages in reactionary rhetoric and that he actually thinks through the implications of his words rather than parroting sound bites for market share. He is a TRUE leader in a world where too many so called leaders have become puppets in one form r another.

      November 29, 2012 at 9:57 am | Reply
    • Tseten Tashi

      Before accusing H.H. the Dalai Lama for not stopping the self immolation in Tibet, one must probe into the dirty and cunning politics of China since it occupied Tibet in 1959 in the name of Peaceful liberation of Tibet, but in reality PLA forcefully occupied Tibet by murdering 2 million Tibetans with the destruction of 6000 monasteries and stupas.

      When the first self immolation begin in New Delhi, India, His Holiness strongly condemned it and clearly stated that inflicting violent act oneself is also an act of violence, as it takes away ones own life, even though it harms non other than oneself, accordingly HHDL advised Tibetans not to follow such drastic acts of self immolation. However for autocrat regime of China when any kind of protest occurs against them Chinese in Tibet or out side, this repressive government of China straightly blames HHDL and call him separatist. At present for HHDL to say something on these self immolation is very hard for him because of the such strong and great sacrifices these brave hearts made for the cause of Tibet and on the other hand Chinese are there to play the blame games. HHDL mentioned it clearly on many occasions in this regard. With a common sense, one has to understand that if given a choice either to live a happy life in Tibet or to burn oneself to death, what would everyone choose? a happy life to live in Tibet but the true reality and fact here is that Tibetans are not at all happy under the repressive Chinese rule, because of their cruel policy on Tibet and brutality on Tibetans, those Tibetans taking this drastic acts of self immolation truly felt these depression and cruelty on oneself, so they choose to die freely rather than living under oppressive Chinese rule in Tibet. We Tibetans understand how this life is precious to everyone. Oppressive regime in China is all responsible for all these tragic loss of Tibetan lives through self immolation. Self immolation will stop if the Chinese regime honestly change their wrong policy on Tibet and by meeting their rightful demands of justice, freedom and return of HHDL to Tibet, so the matter is in the hands of China, not in the hands of HHDL to stop it. Accusing HHDL without having any knowledge on the wrong Chinese policy in Tibet is indeed foolish one to do so!

      November 29, 2012 at 10:23 pm | Reply
    • Breeze

      Da Lai is a politico more than religious leader.Look what he did in March 14th 2008,which made no difference with terrorists leader.

      December 2, 2012 at 8:02 pm | Reply
  2. chiu

    Tibet is part of Great Chinese Big Families from 2500 years ago – Tang Dynasty the WESTER , especially getting weaker america must respect this facts –and read more knowledges of 5500-years-Chinese -history o...200-years-histroy base is really insufficent qualifified to make any comments to this Great cultured China.

    November 28, 2012 at 1:23 am | Reply
    • Cartmanusc

      As a Chinese, I find your comment and support for why Tibet an inseparable part of China quite embarrassing. Your "argument" is classic of the type that has been fed through brainwashing. No critical thinking/analysis whatsoever. FYI, I'm not necessarily for Tibetan independence, it's just that your argument against it is so arrogant and baseless.

      November 28, 2012 at 3:31 am | Reply
      • SteinbeckAfrica

        @cartmanusc: Fully agree with you. Same Argument: Constantinople erm... Istanbul is a part of Italy. Same argument used by Israel against Palestinians

        November 28, 2012 at 4:17 am |
  3. Under the law way

    I disagree with you that in the mordern society that everyone should responsible for his own life, if he feel that he want to gain sth such for "independenc" although death, we should respect and find ways why they do in this way? Use law.

    November 28, 2012 at 1:43 am | Reply
  4. Sentiments

    It is very saddening to read such ignorant comments as yours. You should learn that your history is a nice story for the museums and movies. Great stuff. Using your history for politics and aggression is just backwards. Maybe you should re-read your history and learn from examples. I bet the US knows Chinas history very well and thats the reason to comment on Chinas aggressions.

    November 28, 2012 at 1:46 am | Reply
    • neoooq

      You might be right sir.If the Chinese knew the history of United States well and try what the American colonists did to the Indian local inhabitants,probably there wont be Tibet issue ever.

      November 28, 2012 at 3:19 am | Reply
  5. Lord Byron

    Professor Elliot Sperling has been published by Rangzen Alliance that examines the subject of China’s genocide against Tibet and its people.Professor Sperling’s paper” may be read on the web.

    November 28, 2012 at 2:17 am | Reply
  6. Sonam

    One man who can stop the self emmolation is the stone faced Hu Jin tao. Just stop the cruelty in Tibet. He should condemn their ongoing inhuman action over poor Tibetans by almighty Communist.

    November 28, 2012 at 6:30 pm | Reply
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    November 28, 2012 at 7:57 pm | Reply
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    November 28, 2012 at 7:59 pm | Reply
  9. These are Chinese we're talking about

    Jiang Zemin went to college in the US. It doesn't matter if they have ties here. They are sociopaths. They will shake your hand while planning how they are going to take everything you have and then claim it was always theirs. It's how they are. Trade with them means nothing. We gave them their economy wrapped in a bow, hoping they would see the light. Instead they took credit for it and used it as a weapon against us. Giving them things means nothing.

    Our existence as the #1 causes them to burn with rage toward us because of their inferiority complex, and there's nothing we can do except match their aggression. Convince them that every step of the way, it will be a fight. There are many countries dealing with this menace, we should not deal with it alone and we should do everything we can to acknowledge them as the enemy to beat, and act accordingly.

    November 28, 2012 at 10:11 pm | Reply
  10. DalaiLama

    Religion is poisonous. The more religious you are, the more stupid you become.
    The more underdeveloped a society is the more stupid the people are.
    Suicide attacks, human bombs, child human bombs, now self-immolation.
    You might think that democracy will fix everything, well, think again.
    Haiti, Iraque, Afghanistan. All failed states, all democracies.
    The most corrupt countries in Asia: Philippine, India, Burma, Vietnam, again the 2 democracies are there.
    The cleanest, the most efficient government, and one of richest countries in the world: Singapore, a one party state.
    I know for a fact that the blacks in the USA did not have voting rights until the 60s. was it really a democracy back then?
    The black aboriginals in Australia were not even the citizens of their own land back in the 60s.
    If you have to choose between India or Phillippine and Singapore, no need to lie, you know where you are going.
    Democracy? sorry, the sort of democracies like Haiti, Iraque are not for me.
    The most successful story of the industrialisation in human history: China. Like it not, you don't need to fool yourself.
    Let's face about it: Democracy is built on a modern society, a modern society is built on a modern economy. You don't have a successful democracy with a economy still in the stone ages.
    I dare anyone to chanllenge me to prove me wrong!

    December 1, 2012 at 6:55 am | Reply
  11. Han are Evil

    I support the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan people 100%. These people are battling the rapid influx of racist Han Chinese into what has traditionally been theirs. The Tibetans have been overrun and are now under Beijing's thumb. The Han are callously indifferent to the suffering they are causing to the Tibetans. Tibetan dignity has been destroyed by a "compassionate" communist government. COMMUNISM DESTROYS TIBETANS! FREE TIBET FROM THE HAN CHINESE RACISTS. CHINESE GO HOME!

    December 6, 2012 at 10:56 pm | Reply
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