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US ambassador to China Gary Locke to step down in 2014

Ambassador Locke has decided to resign from his post in Beijing to rejoin his family in Seattle.

China gary locke human rights 2012 01 18Enlarge
U.S. Ambassador to China Gary Locke talks to the media at a press conference on November 3, 2011 in Guangzhou, China. (ChinaFotoPress/Getty Images)

The United States' ambassador to China, Gary Locke, will step down early in 2014, he announced Wednesday.

According to a statement, he plans to return to Seattle to spend more time with his family. 

"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," he said

"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, the first Chinese-American to hold the post, has been the US envoy in Beijing since August of 2011, overseeing an eventful period in US-Chinese relations.

More from GlobalPost: Gary Locke ruffling feathers in China over human rights

In office, Locke was vocal in his critique of China's human rights record. In one notable interview, with American TV host Charlie Rose, Locke said Chinese citizens' freedom was "in a down period, and it's getting worse."

He hit the headlines after the US embassy in Beijing — with Locke's approval — sheltered blind lawyer and activist Chen Guangcheng, triggering considerable diplomatic tension between China and the US. 

Locke also gained attention when he traveled to Tibet in June of this year, becoming the first US ambassador allowed to visit the politically sensitive region in three years.

In his resignation statement, Locke said that such meetings had "advanced American values" in China.

The ambassador was the two-term former governor of Washington State before taking up his post in China, and was also a US commerce secretary. 

Here's Gary Locke interviewed by Charlie Rose in 2012: 

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/politics/diplomacy/131120/us-ambassador-china-step-down-2014