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China media hurls racist slur at departing US envoy
by Staff Writers
Beijing (AFP) March 01, 2014

Pump and circumstance as US China envoy flexes fitness muscle
Beijing (AFP) Feb 28, 2014 - US diplomatic biceps are mightier than China's financial muscle, if a press-up contest pitting outgoing ambassador Gary Locke against a line-up of businessmen in Beijing is anything to go by.

The 64-year-old, who had already earned quasi-celebrity status as the first ethnic Chinese in the post and a rare example of a humble dignitary, took on three tycoons including property billionaire Pan Shiyi at a farewell dinner on Thursday.

Pictures posted by Pan's wife Zhang Xin on her verified social media account showed the four assuming the position in their business shirts on a lurid yellow and blue carpet, in what looked like a hotel function room.

They pumped away, a musclebound announcer standing over them, until only Locke remained, 60 press-ups later.

"Ambassador Locke turned out to be everybody's model of health," wrote Zhang.

"Now I feel embarrassed if I don't do 50 press-ups before dining," runner-up Pan posted on his own verified account on Sina Weibo, a Chinese equivalent of Twitter, where he has almost 17 million followers.

The couple are listed as China's 32nd richest people by wealth publisher the Hurun Report, which estimates their worth at $3.7 billion.

Locke entered the spotlight the moment he took up his post in Beijing in August 2011. The grandson of an immigrant from the southern province of Guangdong, he was Washington's first ethnic Chinese ambassador to the country.

He soon earned a reputation as a low-maintenance dignitary -- in contrast to many Chinese officials -- after being seen buying his own coffee and carrying his own luggage.

The press-up contest was not the first fitness feat by Locke, who featured in this month's edition of the Chinese version of specialist magazine Men's Health, which put him on the cover, his torso encased in a tight black T-shirt.

Earlier Thursday he told journalists at a farewell press conference that he could hold the excruciating plank position, an abdominal exercise that involves holding up one's body in a press-up-like position, for a punishing 51 minutes.

"On the plank, so much of it is all so mental," he said. "It is very tough and gruelling just to be in one position and how do you bide the time."

A Chinese state media outlet used a racist slur to criticise departing US ambassador Gary Locke in an insulting commentary which even blamed him for Beijing's notorious pollution.

The 64-year-old became the first ethnic Chinese in the post when he was appointed in 2011, going on to gain quasi-celebrity status for his modest style and for drawing attention to China's unhealthy skies.

But Locke, who left his role on Saturday, received a highly undiplomatic sendoff from the China News Service in a sneering editorial which referred to him as a "banana", and a "guide dog" for helping a blind activist.

"He is a banana with yellow skin and a white heart", Friday's article opened by saying, calling Locke's ethnicity a ploy by the US to win Chinese hearts and minds while seeking to kick up trouble in the region.

"But the 'yellow skin' of bananas will eventually rot, not only revealing the 'white core' inside but also turning into a putrid 'black core'," the commentary went on.

Locke was viewed as a trailblazer in highlighting the PM 2.5 particulate matter carried in the thick blankets of smog pervading China's capital.

He presided over the introduction of PM 2.5 monitors at the US embassy and consulates around China, drawing widespread attention to the stubborn problem of pollution.

But the official agency wrote that "once Locke arrived, so did the Beijing smog".

It also scorned Locke's image as an unpretentious official known for carrying his own luggage and using a regular car in contrast to his Chinese counterparts.

Citing unnamed foreign media outlets, the commentary accused him of luxuriating in a $100 million official residence and travelling in a fancy bullet-proof vehicle.

The verbal attacks didn't stop there with the editorial deriding him as a "guide dog" for assisting the blind activist Chen Guangcheng in 2012.

Chen sought shelter in the US embassy after escaping house arrest in nearby Shandong province before being allowed to go to America with his family.

Many Chinese social media users criticised the essay and defended Locke.

"He took concrete steps to show us what our officials are really like. He taught Chinese people about PM 2.5 and the truth behind it... and ultimately spurred the Chinese government to confront the issue of smog," said the writer Guo Jingming.

Another commentator rejected the essay as "a breach of truth, breach of logic, breach of ethics, breach of civilised behaviour and breach of diplomatic etiquette, and makes it hard to believe this country has thousands of years of civilisation".

In a farewell press conference on Thursday Locke highlighted the embassy's role in raising awareness about air quality, among other accomplishments, and urged China to improve its human rights record.

He described himself as "proud of my Chinese heritage" but also "thoroughly American" and "proud of the great values that America has brought to the entire world".

Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying gave a more measured response on Locke's tenure, saying this week he had "made some positive contributions to cooperation between China and the US".


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