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Foreign Affairs

Chinese New Year

Since we're observing the Lunar New Year, the situation in China merits a few remarks. Gary Locke is a bit of a rock star in China. Not only is he the first U.S. Ambassador to China of Chinese ancestry, but his non-rock-star persona strikes a chord with the Chinese people.

Locke's popularity here among ordinary Chinese ... has as much to do with his unassuming nature -- his ordinariness -- as his Chinese looks and background. Even before he arrived, Locke was photographed with his daughter at the Seattle airport, sporting a backpack and trying to pay for his coffee with a coupon.

Since then, Locke "sightings" have included the ambassador flying in economy class, buying ice cream with his daughter in the Sanlitun neighborhood of Beijing, and waiting in line with his family alongside tourists for a seat on a cable car descending from the Great Wall.

The reason for the fascination, many here posit, is that when Chinese look at this backpack-toting American envoy with a Chinese face, they see everything their own leaders are not -- leaving authorities struggling for how best to respond to his increasingly evident popularity

"Struggling" Chinese authorities are unlikely to be further enamored with Locke for his most recent statements describing China's political structure as "very, very delicate." While Locke notes that "calls earlier this year for a Jasmine Revolution" ultimately came to nothing, the people are increasingly willign to demonstrate and oppose the government - and a "significant, internal" event could have the power to spark an upheaval.

Locke said that since he took over the ambassadorship from former GOP presidential candidate Jon Huntsman, he has become aware of public demonstrations large and small throughout China that ordinary people were using to pressure the government to address their grievances. He singled out a recent protest in the southern Chinese city of Wukan over the confiscation of land without reasonable compensation.

"[The people] basically prevented anybody from the outside from coming in and brought the city to a halt and forced the Chinese government communist leaders to send people to address their grievances," Locke said.

Of course, this growing unrest has been accompanied by a steep decline in China's commitments to human rights and the rule of law. Hope and courage - the promises for 2012, the Year of the Dragon - may be absolutely necessary for the Chinese in the months to ahead.

P.S. All of the above may seem more relevant in light of Peter Kiernan new book, "Becoming China's Bitch." Kiernan was recently interviewed by Foreign Policy - the intro is below.

The year 2012 will see a stream of new books in the patented Thomas Friedman "Oh My God the Chinese Are Eating Our Lunch with Environmentally Friendly Chopsticks" mold. Some will be more worthwhile than others. One book in particular, however, is sure to stand out, if only for the title: "Becoming China's Bitch: And Nine More Catastrophes We Must Avoid Right Now." 

The author, Peter D. Kiernan, a former partner at Goldman Sachs, explains in the introduction that "it's not a book about China exactly. It's about how America got diverted and lost momentum, and a dragon leapt into the breach. It's also about getting our mojo back."

Perhaps a must read for 2012.

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