By Assunta Ng
My heart sank when I saw the news that the U.S. Ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, had been killed in an attack on the Libyan U.S. consulate Tuesday, Sept. 11. I have to confess that I never cared to learn about ambassadors. Last year, Gary Locke and Sung Kim were appointed as ambassadors to China and S. Korea respectively and that changed my attitude. But it is pitiful that I, a newspaper publisher, can only name two U.S. Ambassadors out of the over 170 in the American government.
I would have never stepped foot on an embassy had our native son Gary Locke not been appointed the job. What’s the point?
The only time I think of embassies is when someone’s lost their passport or when the American intelligence network comes up.
Last November, I visited Locke and his family at the embassy in Beijing. I went because of my pride for the Asian community. Finally, I thought, we have one of our own represented highly in a prestigious government position.
When I wrote this blog on Sunday, Sept. 17, I had no idea that Ambassador Locke’s car would be surrounded on Wednesday, Sept. 19, by over 50 Chinese citizens protesting Japan’s actions towards the disputed islands in the East China Sea. Luckily, he was not injured in the protest.
Security at the embassy
The U.S. embassy in Beijing is a neighbor to many other foreign embassies, including those of India and Japan. Reflecting on our tour, the safety of the embassies is actually in the hands of the host country. This is an important fact. If China didn’t protect the embassies of foreign countries, none of them would be safe.
My husband and I went through three layers of security before we were inside the guest compound. Even Mrs. Mona Locke, Gary’s wife, was not allowed into the main building of the embassy. I was surprised to see that the first and second security checkpoints were staffed by local Chinese. Outside the embassy, the Chinese army provided security; the embassy hires the second tier of local Chinese security; and the final tier is provided by the Marines.
The embassy also recruits many local Chinese to staff clerical and other support positions. Realistically, opportunities for Chinese employees to spy on the U.S. embassy are plentiful. The U.S. government discourages American embassy employees from making friends with local staff. You can never know who’s a bad guy! If an employee dates a foreign national, they have to disclose the relationship so the embassy can vet the person you’re seeing to make sure that they are clean.
The “soft power” of the U.S. embassy
In recent years, the work of the embassy has been focused on helping the local communities, facilitating increased education, art, and cultural exchange. The environment is a big issue for the Chinese, who know that they can’t trust their own government on air pollution. Guess where they turn for accurate information?
Obviously not the state-owned media outlets!
I believe in soft power. There are far-reaching results when the U.S. uses its power and connections to help local communities with their projects such as building schools, educating teachers and training people to use modern technology. No matter how much that accomplishes, however, it will never be enough. There are just so many mountains to cross and fires to put out.
When traveling to foreign countries, each of us must be aware that we also play a role in building bridges. Our attitudes and behaviors in displaying goodwill and understanding in foreign lands can lighten the workload of our embassies. So carry your own “soft power” when you travel, and you will create lasting impressions on strangers.
U.S. ambassadors deserve appreciation
When U.S. ambassadors retire from service, we don’t hear much about them. Too many times we give glory to the new appointees and nothing to those who have served their country well.
Being an ambassador is a thankless job despite its many perks, including large staffs and personal security. The government even pays for the ambassador’s children’s tuition and housing. But when the relationship between a foreign country and U.S. is well built, who gets the credit? Not the ambassadors, but the President and Secretary of State. However, when something goes wrong, the ambassador is summoned to D.C. and Congress grills them. The media goes after them. They bear all the responsibility for failure but none of the credit for success.
So be kind to those who are in foreign services, representing our government. They take a lot of abuse, are often in dire circumstances, and sometimes risk their lives. Thank you to all the U.S. Ambassadors for all your sacrifices and contributions. (end)