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"On my part, I remain committed to the process of dialogue. It is my firm belief that dialogue and a willingness to look with honesty and clarity at the reality of Tibet can lead us to a viable solution."

Obama names Republican governor as envoy to China

May 19, 2009

Reuters
May 18, 2009

WASHINGTON, May 16 -- US President Barack Obama
on Saturday named the Republican governor of Utah
to be the next US ambassador to China, a pivotal
post in relations between the United States and a
major emerging economic power.

Jon Huntsman Jr., 49, a Mandarin-speaking former
US trade official with deep personal and family
business ties to China, takes on a delicate
diplomatic role with a vital trading partner and
one of the biggest sources of financing for the
growing pile of US government debt.

"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,” Mr Obama said at a White
House ceremony with Mr Huntsman at his side.

But Mr Obama also used his nomination of Mr
Huntsman, a former ambassador to Singapore who
has been mentioned as a potential Republican
presidential candidate in 2012, to send a message
to China’s communist leadership.

"Improved relations with China will require
candour 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," Mr Obama said.

Mr Huntsman is the son of billionaire and
philanthropist Jon Huntsman, and his family
founded chemical company Huntsman Corp, which has
operations in China including a factory in
Shanghai. One of Huntsman’s seven children,
daughter Gracie Mei, was adopted from China.

He quoted a Chinese aphorism as he accepted the
nomination on Saturday, which he translated as,
"Together we work, together we progress."

"This more than anything else, I think, captures
the spirit of our journey going forward," he said.

In a 2006 speech at Shanghai Normal University,
Mr Huntsman urged bilateral cooperation to foster
peace and economic prosperity on both sides of
the Pacific, but also had some stern words about
how environmental damage in Asia hurt wildlife in his home state of Utah.

"As leading stakeholders in the international
community, the United States and China must be
good examples and stewards of the Earth," he said
at the time. "We must match economic progress
with environmental stewardship. The effects of
industrialization are felt worldwide."

Eswar Prasad, a senior fellow at the Brookings
Institute and previously head of the China
division at the International Monetary Fund, said
Huntsman’s diplomatic skills "will be tested to
the limit as there are many potential sources of
conflict between China and the US, especially on
trade, currency and environmental policies.”

"Once the world economy stabilizes and the worst
of the (financial) crisis is behind us, these
simmering tensions will come bubbling back to the surface," he added.

Mr 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.

The US trade deficit with China hit a record
$266.3bn in 2008, but both countries are feeling
the pinch now because the global recession has clobbered world trade.

Mr Obama, like his predecessor George W. Bush,
also 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.

Mr 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. Since taking office in January, he
has mostly relied on a Democratic majority in
Congress to push through his legislation.

The ambassador post requires Senate confirmation.

Mr Huntsman served as deputy US trade
representative in the Bush administration from
2001-2004, and was also US ambassador to
Singapore from 1992 to 1994 when Mr Bush’s father was president.

China is among the largest buyers of US
government debt, with $767.9bn as of March,
according to Treasury Department data released on
Friday. Washington is keen to maintain a strong
relationship -- particularly now as the $787bn
stimulus package and $700bn financial bailout
fund have strained public finances.

If China pulled back on its purchases of US
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.
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