Jon Huntsman Challenges in China
BEIJING — Relations between China and the U.S. are at a critical phase, with the next few months likely to test whether the two sides really have built strong and lasting ties, said the new U.S. ambassador to China, Jon Huntsman Jr.
In his first sit-down interview with Western media since arriving here last month, the 49-year-old former Republican governor of Utah spoke of his long ties to China, including his 10-year-old adopted Chinese daughter’s excitement at returning to her roots and how as a young man himself he had a brush with global diplomacy when he helped former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger set off on a secret mission to China.
Mr. Huntsman on Wednesday mostly mused about the array of serious challenges that the two countries have to deal with in the next few months, including climate change, the global economy and military ties.
“We’re putting the relationship to the test, there’s no doubt about that,” Mr. Huntsman said. “And I suspect we have more on our plate than ever before in our 30 years of a formal diplomatic relationship.”
On Wednesday, for example, the U.S. trade representative was due to make a recommendation to President Barack Obama on a request by U.S. tire manufacturers to limit Chinese-made tire imports. The two sides have to cooperate on addressing global economic woes, with China critical of the ballooning U.S. budget deficit and weak dollar. In addition, the two sides face sticky issues in dealing with North Korea and Iran, two countries that aspire to develop nuclear weapons.
The two sides are also engaged in difficult negotiations about climate change, with pressure building for a deal during President Obama’s planned trip to China in mid-November. Before setting out for China, Mr. Huntsman said, Mr. Obama told him to focus on a few big-picture issues: global economy, energy and climate change.
U.S. ambassador to China Jon Huntsman, Jr., says relations between the countries are at a critical point. Still, Huntsman expressed hope that despite inevitable disagreements, the two nations could work together.
“China is in fact a stakeholder in all of these issues, and arguably wasn’t in years past,” Mr. Huntsman said. “If there’s one aspect of the relationship that’s unique and different from what it was before, it is the number of truly global issues that together we’re approaching and hoping to seek solutions on.”
Mr. Huntsman said there already are signs of progress. Ties between the two countries’ militaries are restarting after a year of frosty relations that was triggered by Washington’s agreeing to sell weapons to Taiwan, China’s rival. Also, a regular dialogue on human rights is due to restart this year after more than eight years of virtually no discussion.
The two countries’ more mature ties were reflected in talks Mr. Huntsman had with Chinese leader Hu Jintao, when the ambassador was received last week in the Zhongnanhai leadership compound in downtown Beijing, seat of the central government’s power. “He was very forthright in saying we have to realize we’re not just going to always agree on all issues. I didn’t expect to hear that.”
Mr. Huntsman succeeds Clark T. Randt, whose more-than-seven-year term made him the longest-serving U.S. ambassador to China. Unlike Mr. Randt, who went to college with George W. Bush, Mr. Huntsman isn’t personally close to President Obama — and indeed is from the other main U.S. political party.
But Mr. Huntsman does have extensive experience in Asia. He was a Mormon missionary in Taiwan, where he learned to speak mandarin Chinese fluently, and he served briefly as ambassador to Singapore. He also worked in the office of the U.S. trade representative when China joined the World Trade Organization in 2001.
His family business, Huntsman Corp., has business ties in China, but Mr. Huntsman said he had long since sold his stake in the company and has no ties to it. He also said he had signed standard ethics papers recusing him from any issues surrounding the chemical company.
In the weeks before his departure, he said his adopted daughter eagerly anticipated returning to the country of her birth — a feeling that has become infectious. “I see it in her eyes every day the excitement of living in a place she never thought she’d return to,” he said.
He also recounted his own childhood experience: how as an 11-year-old he was at the White House where his father was working as a staff assistant. It was 1971 and Secretary of State Kissinger invited him to his office and let him take his bag to his car before setting out on one of the path-breaking trips to China, which led to the re-establishment of relations in 1979.
“The part I remember best was when I said where are you going?” Mr. Huntsman said. “He said please don’t tell anyone: ‘I’m going to China.’ ”
I do have a question about the relations between the 2 countries are on the ‘critical phase.’ China has more or less enjoyed the relationship with the US under the George W. Bush’s presidency. Huntsman’s predecessor Clark T. Randt Jr, did little to engage China on the sensitive issues while promoting economic ties between the 2 countries. Also, GWB’s insist to go to the Olympics opening ceremony despite mounting criticism was much a face saving gesture to China.
The other US presidents wasn’t as kind to China. Then first lady Hillary Clinton came to China in 1995 and ‘shamed’ China on women’s rights. George HW Bush put sanctions on China after the Tiananmen Square incident in 1989. GWB’s presidency was the best thing since Henry Kissinger decided to have formal ties with China. Could Barack Obama and Jon Huntsman do better than what GWB did during his 8 years of presidency?
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