Utah GOP gov. is Obama's pick as China envoy

May 16, 2009 4:13:38 PM PDT
President Barack Obama reached across the political divide Saturday and named Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, a potential GOP White House contender in 2012 and top John McCain supporter, to the sensitive diplomatic post of U.S. ambassador to China. Fluent in Mandarin Chinese from his days as a Mormon missionary in Taiwan, the 49-year-old Huntsman is a popular two-term governor who served in both Bush administrations and was national co-chairman of Arizona Sen. McCain's campaign against Obama last year. Huntsman has made a name for himself advocating a moderate agenda in one of the nation's most conservative states.

With Huntsman by his side, Obama said in brief remarks in the White House Diplomatic Room that he made the appointment "mindful of its extraordinary significance. Given the breadth of issues at stake in our relationship with China, this ambassadorship is as important as any in the world because the United States will best be able to deal effectively with global challenges in the 21st century by working in concert with China."

Huntsman made headlines recently for encouraging the Republican Party to swing in a more moderate direction if it wanted to bounce back from the 2008 elections, angering some conservatives.

"I knew that because Jon is not only a Republican, but a Republican who co-chaired my opponent's campaign for the presidency this wouldn't be an easiest decision to explain to some members of his party." Obama said. "But here is what I also know: I know Jon is the kind of leader that always puts country ahead of party."

Huntsman said he never expected "to be called into action by the person who beat us. But I grew up understanding that the most basic responsibility one has is service to country. When the president of the United States asks you to step up and serve in a capacity like this, that to me is the end of the conversation and the beginning of the obligation to rise to the challenge. I stand here in my final term with plenty to do. I wasn't looking for a new job in life, but a call from the president changed that."

Obama's 2008 campaign manager, David Plouffe, said Huntsman is a Republican who "seems to understand the party has to adjust - not stubbornly believe that everything is OK and it is the country that has to change."

Huntsman's positions on the environment and other issues have led some to consider him a potential contender for president in 2012.

He signed an initiative that would set a regional cap-and-trade effort to reduce global warming. In a 2006 speech at Shanghai Normal University, Huntsman spoke of the need for China and the U.S. to work together on environmental issues.

"The United States and China must be good examples and stewards of the Earth. We must match economic progress with environmental stewardship. The effects of industrialization are felt worldwide," Huntsman said then.

Throughout his tenure as governor, Huntsman's background as a diplomat has been evident. He preferred to win over opponee rides a motorcycle and is a fan of motocross.

If confirmed by the Senate, Huntsman will succeed Clark Randt as U.S. ambassador to China.

Randt, a classmate of former President George W. Bush at Yale University, served as Washington's top envoy to Beijing from July 2001 until January, making him the longest-serving U.S. ambassador to China since the two nations established diplomatic ties.

Utah Lt. Gov. Gary Herbert would become governor until a special election in 2010.

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Associated Press writers Brock Vergakis in Salt Lake City, Beth Fouhy in New York and Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.


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