Gov. Gary Locke, the country’s first Chinese-American governor, said Tuesday that his trade mission to China next month will combine an emotional homecoming to his ancestral village with high-level government talks and a little sales pitch for Washington products.
Locke said he’ll skirt touchy political questions, such as human-rights concerns, and try to forge relationships that will help home-state companies. Fostering a healthy economy and more open relations with the West can help improve the daily lives of the Chinese people, he said.
Locke, the son of Chinese immigrants, will conclude a 12-day trade mission by visiting his ancestral village of Gitlun, southwest of Hong Kong. He’ll be joined by his wife, Mona, also the child of Chinese immigrants, and by his father, three sisters and a brother.
“It’s going to be a very emotional trip,” he said of his first visit to Gitlun, where his grandfather was reared and his father was born and lived until emigrating to America when he was 14. After serving in World War II, Jimmy Locke, the governor’s father, returned to China and met the woman he would later marry in Gitlun.
Locke described the town as “very, very small, fairly primitive.” He said the town includes a display of the Locke family activities in the United States, but said he doesn’t know if townspeople are aware yet that he is coming for a one-day visit.
The governor, who rose from the housing projects of Seattle to earn degrees from Yale and Boston University, is the first Asian governor to be elected on the mainland and the first Chinese-American governor.
He told reporters he’s happy to use the widespread interest in him to help open doors in Asia. He said he encountered “great excitement” when he visited China as a state legislator and as King County executive.
“But now I am going as the first Chinese-American governor in the history of the United States and I know there is much attention, much fanfare about that,” Locke said.
He said it will become quickly apparent that he’s American - he speaks no Mandarin and his Cantonese isn’t very good.
He said he doesn’t expect to come back “with millions and millions of dollars of business deals,” but to forge personal ties with government and business leaders that will pay dividends later.
“Many people believe that the 21st century will be the Pacific Rim century as new markets open for our Western countries. Washington is the most trade-dependent state in America. And in Asian countries, personal relationships are critical to business transactions. In some situations, trade relations cannot occur until government leaders have formed those personal relationships.”
The governor and a small state government delegation will leave Oct. 1 for Tokyo, Beijing, Chengdu, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Gitlun. A group of two or three dozen business and civic leaders will join the mission for some of the stops.
Locke said he will visit Taiwan on a later trip. He said he also hopes to visit Mexico.