Gary Locke, who has served as the U.S. ambassador to China since 2011, says he will step down from the role next year for personal reasons.
“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,” Locke said in a statement released by the U.S. embassy in Beijing on Wednesday.
“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,” said the ambassador, who is the first Chinese-American to hold the position.
Locke has had to navigate one of America’s most complex diplomatic relationships. His two-and-a-half-year term has been marked by a row over human rights activist Chen Guangcheng, and discussions over alleged Chinese cyberattacks on American businesses.
The ambassador’s wife and three children moved to Beijing with him in 2011 but returned to Seattle earlier this year so his eldest daughter could finish high school.
The announcement on Wednesday took many embassy staff by surprise, according to the Wall Street Journal. Locke’s replacement has yet to be named.