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Farewell, Everyman: Chinese React to Ambassador Locke’s Departure

Chinese are waving goodbye to the frustratingly normal U.S. ambassador to Beijing, Gary Locke, who announced on Nov. 20 that he will be leaving his post in early 2014. Over 300,000 netizens discussed Locke's resignation on Sina Weibo, the Twitter-like platform where thousands had lauded Locke's frugality and common touch since his term began in Aug. 2011 -- when a Chinese tech entrepreneur spotted Locke carrying his own backpack and purchasing his own coffee at a Starbucks in the Seattle airport en route to assuming his new post.

The contrast between Locke, who frequently chose to fly economy, and China's often coddled and flashy officials, rankled some citizens, not to mention cadres. The consensus among China's chattering class: The bureaucracy will be happy to see Locke go. A lawyer named Ding Laifeng wrote that Locke's "crimes" in China included "impacting the honorable image of Chinese officials." Businessman Du Zhifu remarked that, set among Chinese officials, Locke was like "a pearl in a pile of trash," and that his presence made China's bureaucrats -- whom Du called "boozing gluttons" -- look even worse.

Unsurprisingly, China's state-run media were stingy with praise as they bid Locke fairwell. The Communist Party mouthpiece Global Times published a pseudonymously signed op-ed claiming that Locke and the U.S. embassy had "caused some embarrassment" for China over the past two years. The op-ed referenced two sensitive incidents in which Locke played a major role: successfully negotiating Chongqing police boss Wang Lijun's safe exit from the U.S. consulate in Chengdu after Wang attempted to defect in Feb. 2012, and helping rights activist Chen Guangcheng leave China for the United States in May 2012. "Goodbye Gary Locke," the title reads, and then adds, somewhat condescendingly, "our old controversies are water under the bridge." The first Chinese-American ambassador to China, Locke always tried to convey that his loyalties were with the United States. "Just because he is the same color as you," the author of another Nov. 21 Global Times op-ed cautions Chinese readers, "doesn't mean he will treat you well."

Locke's exit may relieve some Communist functionaries, but his departure is almost certainly not a result of their dissatisfaction. Locke himself told the Los Angeles Times that he wanted to return to Seattle so that his three children could finish their education in one place. He denied that the notoriously polluted air in Beijing, which the U.S. embassy monitored more assiduously during Locke's tenure, had anything to do with his decision. Hundreds of Weibo users were incredulous, writing confidently that Locke had "returned home to cleanse the lungs."

Others were inclined to just take him at face value. "You can tell he's a man who loves his family," wrote one Weibo user. "There's no need to read too much into this."

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Don't Believe the Hype: Joseph Kony Isn't About to Surrender

If Michel Djotodia, the Central African Republic's rebel leader turned interim president, is to be believed, Joseph Kony, the head of the infamous Lord's Resistance Army, is about to emerge from the jungle and surrender. "It's true, Joseph Kony wants to come out of the bush," Djotodia told the Guardian. "We are negotiating with him." Reports suggest that Kony is sheltering near the town of Nzako and asking intermediaries for food and supplies.

Let's just say that analysts tracking Kony are, well, skeptical about that claim.  What's more likely, they say, is that the government is talking to a group of LRA fighters, possibly defectors, who may have no affiliation with Kony.

Experts on the LRA say the reports seem to in reality be about the government's communications with a group of LRA fighters near Nzako. Paul Ronan, policy director for The Resolve LRA Crisis Initiative, laid out what seems to have really happened on his organization's blog: In August, an LRA emissary delivered two letters to town leaders in Nzako that expressed an interest in surrendering. The CAR government responded by opening communications with representatives of the rebel group, who travelled to Nzako from rebel camps. Over the course of the next two months, the government's representatives encouraged defections from the group -- but also plied the its representatives with food and medicine, which was taken back to the LRA camp. Ledio Cakaj, an independent researcher focusing on the LRA, noted that the group is also receiving supplies from a local NGO operating out of Nzako. Ronan writes that, after two months of frontier diplomacy, he does not know of any members of the rebel group surrendering and that CAR representatives in Nzako still do not know for certain to whom the LRA delegation reports. In fact, Cakaj points out, the LRA members in Nzako said they worked for the "big boss" who is missing an eye. Needless to say, Kony is not missing an eye. "Are they messing with us?" Cakaj asked rhetorically on Twitter. Answer: "VERY LIKELY."

The whole thing is a "non-story," Michael Poffenberger, executive director of The Resolve, said on Twitter. The U.S. State Department was similarly skeptical. "At this time, we have little reason to believe that Joseph Kony is part of this group," a State Department official told the Associated Press. More likely, it's Djotodia trying to drum up support for an engagement policy that hopes to strip away LRA militiamen and sideline the force as a rival armed group in a region rife with powerful militias. That policy has provided material support to the LRA but with no indication that the effort is actually bringing the group closer to surrendering. 

So, don't get too optimistic about Joseph Kony being brought in anytime soon. You can keep working on your KONY2014 videos or whatever else you think will help track down the warlord.

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