- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 16, 2009


President Obama Saturday named Republican Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. of Utah to be his ambassador to China, bolstering the White House’s bipartisan credentials and sweeping a potential 2012 rival out of the running.

Mr. Obama said his pick will be able to push a “new era of partnership between our two nations,” speaking from the Diplomatic Room Saturday morning on a day when nothing had been planned.

Mr. Huntsman, who speaks fluent Mandarin Chinese, has significant foreign affairs experience — serving as deputy U.S. trade ambassador during President George W. Bush’s administration and becoming the youngest U.S. ambassador in a century in 1992 when President George H.W. Bush named him ambassador to Singapore.

Mr. Obama said Mr. Huntsman has “respect for China’s proud traditions” and “understands what it will take to make America more competitive in the 21st century.”


Jon Huntsman Jr.: Current congressional leadership is ‘inconsequential,’ ‘benign’ (video, from Feb. 2009, below)

The governor, 49, also was attracting attention for challenging his party and for offering a new way of doing political business, sparking some to say he should consider a run for president in 2012 when Mr. Obama is up for reelection. He was elected in 2004 and reelected last fall with 77 percent of the vote.

“I never expected to be standing here,” the Republican said, mentioning that he was a national co-chair for Mr. Obama’s 2008 presidential rival Sen. John McCain.

“The most basic responsibility one has is service to country,” Mr. Huntsman said. “I wasn’t looking for a new job in life but a call from the president changed that.”

The hastily arranged ceremony also gave the White House an opportunity to change the conversation as Mr. Obama was getting criticized for changing his position on releasing photos of torture and for embracing military commissions for detainees.

The White House said Mr. Obama “believes we will need to continue to work with China to stem the financial crisis and help lay a foundation for sustainable growth and lasting prosperity for people on both sides of the Pacific.”

Mr. Huntsman and his wife, Mary Kaye, have seven children, including two adopted daughters from China and India.

He also served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Commerce in the Trade Development Bureau from 1989 to 1990 and Deputy Assistant Secretary of Commerce for East Asia and the Pacific. He also worked in President Reagan’s administration.

Mr. Huntsman made political headlines earlier this year by telling The Washington Times in an interview that his party’s political leadership on Capitol Hill was “inconsequential”

One of the masterminds of the Obama campaign, former campaign manager David Plouffe, told reporters recently that Mr. Huntsman made him nervous from a political perspective.

“I think he’s really out there and speaking a lot of truth about the direction of the party,” Mr. Plouffe said, according to US News.

During his introduction Saturday, Mr. Huntsman spoke first in Mandarin, then in English offering a Chinese saying, “Together we work. Together we progress.”

Mr. McCain, for his part, hailed the president on his Twitter feed, writing that Mr. Huntsman is a “great choice.”

The White House suggested the Utah governor is exactly the type of “outside the box” hires Mr. Obama said he wanted right after winning the election.

An Obama aide said the president’s senior Asia adviser Jeff Bader suggested Mr. Huntsman as the most qualified person given his experience in the region, fluency in the language and culture, and knowledge of critical issues affecting the region.

The aide said Mr. Bader was impressed the governor knows how to listen and not just talk and valued his reputation as a “problem-solver, not a dogmatist.” The aide said Mr. Bader and Mr. Huntsman became friends, and that Mr. Bader believed the governor fit the same no drama Obama model the president sought during the campaign and has attempted during his administration.

The outreach came from Mr. Bader, chief of staff Rahm Emanuel and finally in a final job offer from Mr. Obama himself on May 5. The governor accepted that day, and the two met in the Oval Office May 9.

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