Do looks matter in China?

July 16, 2009

BEIJING – Does having “a Chinese face” help two top U.S. officials in hard bargaining on energy and trade issues with the Chinese?

U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, whose grandfather came to the United States from China, told reporters in Beijing not necessarily so.

But Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao expressed pride in Locke and U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu’s ancestory when he met with them on Thursday.

“For both secretaries of Chinese heritage, I am particularly glad to see you today. I want to extend CHINA/my congratulations to the two of you for taking very important positions in the U.S. administration,” Wen said at the start of a meeting on clean energy cooperation between the world’s biggest emitters greenhouse gases blamed for global warming.

Later, at a press conference at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, a Chinese reporter asked Locke and Chu whether “your Chinese face and your Chinese origin” provided an edge in negotiations with the Chinese.

Locke, a former Washington state governor who has visited China dozens of time and helped arrange President Hu Jintao’s visit to Seattle in 2006, told Reuters earlier this week his Chinese ancestry did “help open some doors” in Beijing.  At the press conference, he played down any benefit.

“I don’t know that being a Chinese-American gives us a particular advantage,” Locke said. “We represent the president of the United States and the American people … I’m proud of my Chinese heritage and the contribution of China for thousands of year, but I’m 100 percent American.”

Chu, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist brought in by President Barack Obama to help raise public awareness about the threat from global warming, said what helped most was an understanding of the difficulties both sides face in combatting global warming and “showing compassion” for that.

Locke and Chu travelled with another prominent Chinese-American member of Obama’s administration, Christopher Lu.

“I know the name and also the importance of his position,” Wen said when Locke introduced the two.

Lu, a law school classmate of Obama, works in the White House as assistant to the president in charge of the Cabinet.
“The three of us are the highest-ranking Chinese-Americans in President Obama’s administration,” Locke told Wen.

“We’re proud of our great country, America. But we’re also proud of our ancestoral homeland,” Locke said.

Photo credit: REUTERS/Greg Baker/Pool (Wen Jiabao meets with Locke (C) and Chu (L) in Beijing)

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