Gary Locke was born on January 21, 1950, in Seattle, Washington, into a family of Chinese immigrants. After growing up in Seattle, Locke attended Yale University, receiving a bachelor's degree in political science in 1972. Three years later, he graduated from Boston University with a law degree. After graduating from law school, Locke served as a deputy prosecutor for King County in his home state of Washington. He was elected to the Washington State House of Representatives in 1982, where he served on the judiciary and appropriations committees. In 1993, he became the King County executive. In 1996, Locke became the first Chinese-American governor in the United States when he was elected governor of Washington. He served two terms as governor, concentrating on improving education and breaking down international trade barriers in trade-dependent Washington. After leaving office, he worked for Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, an international law firm where he co-chaired the firm's China practice.
Locke served as secretary of commerce under President Barack Obama from 2009 until 2011. As secretary, Locke helped implement President Obama's agenda for economic recovery, was the administration's point person for achieving the President's National Export Initiative, and presided over an increase in U.S. exports. Locke specifically worked to improve U.S. trade relations with China. During his time at the Department of Commerce, U.S. exports to China increased, and Locke co-chaired two sessions of the U.S.-China Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade, which resulted in significant changes to U.S.-Chinese trade policy. He also worked to make U.S. companies more competitive by shortening the patent pending period at the Patent and Trademark Office and easing licensing burdens for exports. In 2011, President Obama appointed Locke as the U.S. Ambassador to the People's Republic of China.