After impressing Chinese netizens weary of official decadence by carrying his own luggage, newly appointed U.S. Ambassador Gary Locke took up his post in Beijing this week amid warnings that bilateral tensions remain.
Locke, who has been nicknamed "the backpacker" by Chinese media after photos of him carrying his own bags were posted online, has received a warm welcome in the country his grandfather emigrated from last century.
The former U.S. commerce secretary arrived in Beijing at the weekend carrying his own luggage and traveling in a nonluxury car, a far cry from the huge expense accounts and decadent lifestyles of many Chinese officials.
Locke's appointment followed the resignation of his predecessor Jon Huntsman, who went on to run for the Republican presidential nomination.
Official media welcomed Locke's arrival, saying that his Chinese ancestry could build bridges at a time of strained ties between Beijing and Washington.
Netizens, while impressed with Locke's frugal approach to travel, said his Chinese roots were unlikely to make him more pro-China, however.
"[Locke] needs to prove to Americans that he will not be influenced by his Chinese lineage," wrote one commenter on the popular microblogging site Sina Weibo.
"A lot of people understand that he will represent U.S. interests, but ... many Chinese people still have a fantasy about him."
On arriving, Locke, 61, referred to his history as the third generation descendant of a Chinese grandfather who emigrated to live in Washington state.
"I am both humbled and honored to stand here before you as a child of Chinese immigrants representing America, the land of my birth, and the American values my family holds dear," Locke told reporters on arriving in Beijing.
'Addiction to debt'
Sino-U.S. tensions have escalated in recent months over a series of disputes and disagreements, China's growing military muscle, human rights abuses, and controversial economic policies.
Locke said on Sunday that the U.S., which recently lost its triple-A debt rating by a key credit agency, is committed to greater fiscal prudence in future.
He said signs in recent days of stronger interest in U.S. sovereign debt showed that investments in the country are "safe [and] secure."
China is currently the biggest foreign holder of U.S. debt, with a position worth U.S. $1.2 trillion, though large-scale sell-offs are an unlikely choice for Beijing.
However, Chinese official media commentators have hit out at Washington over the debt crisis, saying the U.S. suffers from an "addiction to debt."
A heavy burden
The official Xinhua news agency warned that Locke has far greater burdens to carry than his own backpack.
"A picture of a backpacker on the Internet attracted much attention from the Chinese people. Sunday afternoon, the backpacker appeared in front of the media as the new U.S. ambassador," the agency said.
"One thing for sure is that his mission will be much heavier than the bag he carried on the way to China."
Chinese analysts said Locke was obviously keen to give a strong message of confidence in U.S. fiscal and economic policy on his arrival in Beijing.
"President Obama recently made some very similar comments to the effect that there are no [stability] issues with the United States," said Xie Jiaye, head of the California-based America-China Association for Science & Technology Exchange. "Economically, he is saying that they aren't in trouble, and that the problems stem from policy [debates.]"
"There is no doubt that Sino-U.S. cooperation is essential to the global economy," Xie added.
Li said Locke's reference to American values potentially hinted at tension over Beijing's human rights record.
"He didn't raise it directly, a sensitive topic like human rights, but he spoke about American values, which of course include human rights and democracy," he said.
Rights activist Zhao Lianhai, who has campaigned vigorously for compensation for children affected by the melamine-tainted milk scandal since 2008, said he welcomed Locke's appointment.
"Judging from the reports about him, we can tell that he will take a calm and enlightened attitude without being condescending," Zhao said.
"As ambassador posted here, he is likely to have a deep understanding of China's situation."
Reported by Yang Jiadai for RFA's Mandarin service, and by Ho Shan for the Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.