Former Gov. Locke stepping down as ambassador to China

SEATTLE -- U.S. Ambassador and former Washington Gov. Gary Locke announced Wednesday he is stepping down in early 2014 to rejoin his family in Seattle.

"Serving as the U.S. ambassador to China has been the honor of a lifetime," Locke said in a news release issued Wednesday in Beijing. "I am profoundly grateful to President Obama for providing me the opportunity to serve as his representative in Beijing  these past two and a half years – and to be the first Chinese-American to hold this position.

"Helping manage one of the most vitally important bilateral relationships for the United States, with so many critical American interests at stake, has been an immense and rewarding challenge.  And living in China while representing the United States  has truly been an  exciting privilege for  our entire family.

"When I met with President Obama earlier this month, I informed him of my decision to step down as Ambassador in early 2014 to rejoin my family in Seattle.

"I am extremely proud of the work of our staff at the U.S. Embassy and Consulates in China and what we have been able to accomplish together on behalf of the American people and for U.S.-China relations.

"Our efforts have focused on job creation in America by increasing exports to China, opening more markets for American companies, and promoting Chinese investment in the U.S.  We have significantly increased Chinese business and tourism travel to the U.S. by dramatically reducing wait times for a visa to 3-5 days from historical highs of 70-100 days.  And we have advanced American values by meeting with religious leaders and human rights lawyers, and visiting Tibetan and Uighur ethnic minorities in Tibet and Xinjiang.

"Finally, as I reflect on my tenure as ambassador, I do so knowing that U.S.-China relations continue to grow stronger.  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 peoples, but the entire world."

Locke, 63, was appointed ambassador to China on Aug. 1, 2011.

He was the 21st governor of Washington, from 1997 to 2005, and served in the Obama administration as commerce secretary from 2009-11.

Locke was born in Seattle and grew up with his family in the Yesler Terrace public housing project. Locke graduated from Seattle's Franklin High School with honors in 1968 and attended Yale University. He received a law degree from the Boston University School of Law in 1975.

In 1982, Locke was elected to the state House and 11 years later was elected as King County's executive. In 1996, he won the Democratic nomination and the race for governor of Washington, where he served two terms.

Locke is married to Mona Lee, a former TV reporter at KING 5, and they have three children -- Emily Nicole, Dylan James and Madeline Lee.