Locke explained his decision, which he described as "not an easy decision," to return to the U.S. so that his two oldest children could complete their high school education in Seattle, saying "it was a family decision." Locke's wife Mona returned for the farewell, having departed China several months earlier with their children.
"... I depart Beijing with a real sense of achievement and a great sense of optimism for what the future holds for our two great countries."
Secretary of State John Kerry lauded Locke's achievements Thursday, calling him "a champion of human dignity and a relentless advocate for America’s values," and cited Locke's success in reducing the wait time for a U.S. visa to three days and increasing Chinese investment into the U.S. beyond what it had been in the past 11 years combined.
Kerry also noted the ambassador's personal journey as a descendant of Chinese immigrants who then became the first ambassador to China of Chinese ancestry.
"The first time I heard him speak at the Magnuson Awards in Seattle, Gary talked movingly about what it meant to be the son and grandson of Chinese immigrants. It was a story," Kerry said, that was "stamped into his DNA as a public servant, and it became lessons stamped into his DNA as a diplomat."
Locke previously served as secretary of Commerce and governor of Washington. He was appointed ambassador to China in 2011.
Former Senator Max Baucus was confirmed as Locke's replacement on February 6.