Gary Locke, the well-liked US ambassador to China, will step down from his diplomatic post early next year.
In a statement released by the US embassy in Beijing, Locke cited personal reasons for his decision.
“When I met with President Barack Obama earlier this month, I informed him of my decision to step down as ambassador in early 2014 to rejoin my family in Seattle,” Locke said in the statement.
Locke was a US commerce secretary and Washington state governor before he took the ambassadorship in August 2011. He is also the first Chinese-American to hold the post.
Locke’s term has been marked by a series of diplomatic tensions that threatened to derail US-Sino relations, including the dramatic plight of Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng.
The 63-year-old elicited admiration from the Chinese public for embodying a stark contrast to high-flying officials in Beijing who are often surrounded by near dozens of bodyguards and travel with an entourage.
He dismissed speculations that Beijing’s worsening air quality has prompted him to move his family back to the US.
“Absolutely not,” he told the Los Angeles Times before flying from Beijing to Kunming on a trade mission.
“We are concerned about it, but that’s not what motivated us to go back. We wanted our kids to have junior and senior year of high school back in the United States.”
Locke lauded that he had helped boost business and tourism relations with China during his term. He also increased American exports to China, promoting Chinese investments in the US and reducing waiting times for an American visa.
“Finally, as I reflect on my tenure as ambassador, I do so knowing that US-China relations continue to grow stronger,” he said in a statement.
“While our bilateral relationship is a complex one, I remain confident in the ability of our leaders to manage differences and increase cooperation in areas of mutual concern to the benefit of not just our two great people, but the entire world.”
Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei praised Locke and said that he “has strived to foster China-US communication and co-operation, and for his we express our compliments.”
By Maesie Bertumen