With the serious concerns of Republicans over the current field of competitors for the 2012 presidential nomination, former governor of Utah and former ambassador to China Jon Huntsman may be a standout leader. Huntsman speaks fluent Mandarin, has a vast store of insight and knowledge of the Chinese people and China’s history, government and economy. This ambassador had the wherewithal and courage to attend the Jasmine Revolution protest in Beijing, just last February. In leather jacket and sunglasses, the ambassador smiled at one demonstrator and said he was “there just to look around.” The Wall Street Journal was among those that remarked it is indeed rare for an ambassador to attend an anti-government protest in China.
Huntsman has had a lifetime interest in Asia, and the Far East (Jon Huntsman was ambassador to Singapore in the administration of President George H. W. Bush). Huntsman points out the vast numbers of farmers, no longer needed in farming, being transitioned by the Chinese government into other areas. He points to the billions of Chinese living in desperate conditions. He alludes to a Chinese stimulus the cost of which was in the trillions of dollars. He sees the Chinese government moving from military to civilian leadership; it is, he says, a government rich with creative entrepreneurs. Huntsman, in an interview with Charlie Rose in late 2010, said a weakness of China is the inability to resolve business disputes. He noted that China has concerns about increased wages damaging the national economy. The lack of freedom of speech, Huntsman notes, brings about criticism, thus instability. He quotes a saying in Mandarin that translates, “In China we also have politics.” The former ambassador praised uniqueness in every nation.
In December of 2010, Huntsman was concerned about the Chinese navy venturing beyond their sphere of influence in the South China Sea and in the Indian Ocean. While China must keep supply lines opened, and must protect its economic interests, China feels, according to Huntsman, that growth is only possible if a regime is stable and predictable. Sovereignty is high on the list of Chinese priorities. Sometimes, according to Huntsman, they go too far: in a naval encounter with Japan, the Chinese navy took the commander of the Japanese vessel into custody. Huntsman notes the United States and China have the two largest economies and the two largest militaries in the modern world. America should welcome China’s rise, he affirms, but would appreciate more transparency, more adherence to the Rules of the Road. Huntsman goes on to say, “Language is the lens that cracks the code of culture.” China values investments in the U.S., in the areas of plant property and equipment, and these investments are likely to continue. China recognizes that the United States still has the top market in the world.
President Obama and Ambassador Huntsman were together in the company of Chinese President Hu Jintao early in June, 2011. Obama said, “I couldn’t be happier with the ambassador’s service, and I’m sure he will be very successful in whatever endeavors he chooses in the future… I’m sure that his having worked so well with me will be a great asset in any Republican primary.” Huntsman that evening mentioned his personal loyalty to “our president and our country.”
White House chief of staff William Daley has been known to call Ambassador Huntsman “the Manchurian candidate.” Huntsman has left the Obama (Democratic) camp to campaign for the presidency in 2012 as a Republican. William Daley made the comment, “I want Jon to know that the president has no hard feelings. In fact, he just did an interview with the Tea Party Express saying how integral he has been to the success of the Obama administration.” The Tea Party may take a dim view of the ambassador to China’s ties with the Democratic president.
Before his ambassadorships, Jon Huntsman was elected governor of Utah in 2004, and reelected with an excess of 75% of the vote in 2008. Huntsman in the same year was national co-chairman for John McCain’s presidential campaign. Huntsman is viewed as a pragmatic moderate, a centrist. In fact, candidate Huntsman says the conservative hope for the future lies in a move to the center on such issues as gay rights, the environment, and immigration. Jon Huntsman is one of the few in the Republican party who hasn’t devoted time and energy to pompous criticism of President Obama and his administration.