By Greg Hugh, Staff Writer

On May 16, 2009, President Barack Obama nominated Utah governor Jon Huntsman, Jr., to be the U. S. ambassador to China.


China's Foreign Ministry said China hopes that the nomination of Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. as the U.S. ambassador to China will play a "positive" role in bilateral relations, Beijing media reported recently. By Greg Hugh, Staff Writer

On May 16, 2009, President Barack Obama nominated Utah governor Jon Huntsman, Jr., to be the U. S. ambassador to China.

China's Foreign Ministry said China hopes that the nomination of Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. as the U.S. ambassador to China will play a "positive" role in bilateral relations, Beijing media reported recently.

The Beijing-based Global Times said in its recent cover story that China's Foreign Ministry had been diplomatically contacted regarding the nomination.

"The United States has sought opinions from the Chinese side through diplomatic channels and China is handling the issue according to relevant procedures and international conventions," the ministry said in a statement.

"We hope that a new appointee will play a positive role and work to the advantage of the development of bilateral relations in a new era and strengthen the friendship between the two peoples," the ministry said.

Fluent in Chinese Mandarin (Putonghua) and having adopted a Chinese daughter, the newly nominated U.S. ambassador to China looks to assume a crucial role of diplomat between two nations that are increasingly interdependent in economic matters and are often at odds over hot-button issues such as human rights and weapon sales to Taiwan.
But analysts warn that even with the strong Chinese cultural background that Huntsman possesses, it doesn't mean the United States will be any less firm with China on contested and thorny issues, according to the Global Times.

Huntsman was tapped for the key foreign-policy role that has been vacant since Clark T. Randt Jr. retired from the position in January.

"The nomination of the new ambassador does good to both sides," Shi Yinhong, director of the American Studies Center at Renmin University of China, was quoted by the Global Times as saying.

Shi called Huntsman a powerful politician with rich policy-making experience related to China.

Huntsman, 49, son of a Utah multimillionaire and philanthropist, served as a White House staff assistant to President Reagan, ambassador to Singapore under President George H.W. Bush and deputy trade representative under President George W. Bush.  Obama's choice of a Republican for such a key post could signal that the Democratic president has not abandoned his pledge to seek bipartisan cooperation.

The governor has strong ties to Asia: He lived as a Mormon missionary in Taiwan. He and his wife, Mary Kaye, adopted two daughters, one from China and one from India. He also supports Utah's legislative push to offer Chinese language courses in school, which would be the first of its kind in the United States.

But that does not mean thorny issues would be ignored.

Tao Wenzhao, an expert on Sino-U.S. relations at the American Institute of Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times that China must be vigilant, as the United States is a collection of various interest groups, which means the arms sellers will continue to sell weapons to Taiwan and its defense department won't stop spreading the "China Threat Theory."

"That's why we can't be optimistic, though there will be a new ambassador with closer connections to China," he said.

Following are some details about Huntsman:
* Born March 26, 1960, in Palo Alto, California
* Elected to a second term as Republican governor of Utah in November 2008
* Served as a White House staff assistant to President Ronald Reagan
* Was Deputy U.S. Trade Representative under President George W. Bush
* Fluent in Mandarin after a stint as a missionary in Taiwan for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or Mormons
* Was the youngest U.S. ambassador in a century when he was named envoy to Singapore in 1992
* Has seven children, including adopted daughters from China and India
* Family business, Huntsman Corp, is one of the largest chemical companies in the world. It was granted approval in 2002 to build a plant in Shanghai
* Gave a 2006 speech on U.S.-China relations at Shanghai Normal University where he stressed the importance of moving beyond "nationalistic prowess" on matters of trade and environmental well-being

''This ambassadorship is as important as any in the world because the United States will best be able to deal effectively with the global challenges of the 21st century by working in concert with China,'' Obama said at a White House ceremony with Huntsman at his side.

But Obama also used his nomination of Huntsman, a Mandarin-speaking former ambassador to Singapore who has been mentioned as a potential Republican presidential candidate in 2012, to send a message China's communist leadership. ''Improved relations with China will require candor and open discussion about those issues where we don't always agree, such as human rights and democracy and free speech, and will require that each of our nations play by the rules in open and honest competition,'' Obama said.

The huge U.S. trade deficit with China and the value of China's yuan currency have been among the biggest sticking points in relations between the two countries. Obama's administration has stopped short of accusing China of keeping its currency artificially low in order to boost exports, but some in Congress would like to see the United States formally accuse China of manipulating the yuan. Obama, like his predecessor George W Bush, has been mostly low-key in any criticism of China's human rights record. Washington is mindful of its need for Beijing's cooperation in curbing the global financial crisis and in reining in North Korea's nuclear ambitions.

''We're working with the government of China to stem the financial crisis that has devastated economies around the world and help lay a foundation for sustainable growth and lasting prosperity on both sides of the Pacific,'' Obama said.

China is among the largest buyers of U.S. government debt, and is also a vital U.S. trading partner. Washington is keen to maintain a strong relationship -- particularly now as the US$787 billion stimulus package and US$700 billion dollar financial bailout fund have strained public finances. If China pulled back on its purchases of U.S. Treasury bonds, it could drive up interest rates, making it more expensive for the government to finance its growing debt pile. It could also raise borrowing costs for a host of consumer and business loans, including home mortgages.

On the campaign trail last year, Obama took a harder line on the yuan, a stance that played well with key constituencies such as labor groups that are worried about U.S. jobs vanishing as China's manufacturing and export clout grows.

At the Group of 20 Summit in London on April 1, the United States and China agreed to a once-a-year strategic and economic dialogue that would include negotiations on the economy between U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Chinese Vice Premier Wang Qishan.

Editor’s Note:  This article was compiled from several news services located in the U.S. and China.



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