It's now official. On Saturday May 16th, 2009, President Barack Obama formally announced the appointment of Utah Governor Jon Huntsman Jr. as the new United States Ambassador to the People's Republic of China. Here are links to a gaggle of Utah media stories:
-- Obama names Huntsman ambassador, Deseret News, May 16th
-- Huntsman statement on being named ambassador to China, Deseret News, May 16th
-- Text of Obama naming Huntsman China ambassador, Deseret News, May 16th
-- Obama: Crucial role for Huntsman in China, Salt Lake Tribune, May 16th
-- Transcript of Obama-Huntsman news conference, Salt Lake Tribune, May 16th
-- Utah Lt. Gov. Gary Herbert in line for a big promotion, Salt Lake Tribune, May 16th
-- Obama picks Huntsman as China envoy, KSL Channel 5, May 16th
-- Huntsman will leave legacy of diplomacy, KSL Channel 5, May 15th
-- Utah losing charismatic Republican governor, KSL Channel 5, May 15th
-- A look at the political life and times of Jon Huntsman, KTVX Channel 4, May 15th
-- Utah's GOP Governor is Obama's pick as China envoy, KUTV Channel 2, May 16th. KUTV news video embedded below:
In introducing Huntsman, Obama stressed the importance of the post, stressing China's clout on the world stage. The president said he can think of no one better suited to take on this assignment than the governor of the great state of Utah. Obama said he knew Huntsman's decision to take the job wouldn't be the easiest decision to explain to some members of his party, but added that Huntsman is the kind of leader who puts country ahead of party and is always willing to sacrifice on behalf of our nation, lauding Huntsman's willingness to move beyond the old ideologies and stale debates that all too often hinder progress. Obama also said Huntsman will bring a respect for China's traditions to the job. A White House statement issued just before the formal announcement was made said Huntsman's long service to the country also prepares him well to be frank with our Chinese friends when we disagree on human rights, democracy, and other matters.
Governor Huntsman said he didn't expected to be called into action by the person who defeated McCain. "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", said the 49-year-old Huntsman. The Senate must confirm his appointment, and that probably will be just a mere formality due to his reputation as a moderate Republican who has publicly supported civil unions and is sympathetic towards "cap-and-trade". In addition, Huntsman, who is a grandson of the late LDS Apostle David Haight and who is in his final term as Utah's governor, is fluent in Mandarin Chinese and is a former trade representative and ambassador to Singapore. He also served an LDS mission in Taiwan.
Lt. Gov. Gary Herbert will succeed Huntsman. However, since Huntsman is resigning so early in this term, Herbert cannot simply fill out the entire unexpired term through 2012. He must run in a special election to be held in November 2010. And Utah Democrats already think they scent some blood in the air, primarily because Herbert is more conservative than Huntsman. Herbert has already stated that he will indeed run in 2010. Herbert's official bio can be found HERE, and a Wikipedia entry HERE.
So what's the upshot of this appointment? I foresee three significant effects:
(1). Neutralizes a prospective 2012 Presidential rival. Recently, an Obama campaign official publicly hinted that President Obama feared a Huntsman 2012 candidacy more than that of any other Republican. Although discussions between Huntsman and Obama pre-dated this statement, Huntsman's appointment makes a 2012 Presidential challenge by him unlikely. Many pundits are thinking that 2016 is more likely.
(2). Clears a possible path for Mitt Romney. The prospect of Republican Presidential candidacies by two LDS politicians, Huntsman and Romney, would have effectively split the Mormon vote during the 2012 primary season. In Utah, Mitt Romney is viewed more favorably than Jon Huntsman. Conservative Republicans are beginning to warm up to the prospect of a Romney-Palin Presidential ticket in 2012, which would effectively link Mitt Romney's textbook Presidential persona with Sarah Palin's matchless motivational skills. Having only one Mormon in the race will simplify the decision-making for LDS Republicans.
(3). Opens up China to official LDS Church activity. This may be a bit more problematic, but it is a possibility. LDS doctrine holds that the restored Gospel must be physically carried to all the nations of the earth as a precursor to the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. China is one of the few nations not permitting an official LDS presence. Their reluctance is historically-driven; Christian "missionary" activity often served as a pretext for Western imperialist intervention in China's internal affairs during the 19th century. So it is understandable that China would be somewhat skittish about Western missionary activity.
But Jon Huntsman's diplomatic skills and knowledge of Asian culture make him uniquely suited to break down the walls of suspicion. According to Mormonism Unveiled, he will be ideally positioned to show the Chinese government that they have nothing to fear by allowing Christian proselytization in their country, particularly once he cites the Twelfth Article of Faith, which proclaims the objective of honoring, upholding, and sustaining the law. This can have a reassuring effect upon insecure authoritarian governments, and may have been instrumental in convincing the East German government to allow the Church to build a temple in their country during the Communist era, and it could work this time as well. Collateral benefits may also be realized by other Christian denominations, and even a rapprochement between the Dalai Lama and the Chinese government could ensue. It is possible that Jon Huntsman has been marked out to open China to the fulness of the Gospel and to religious liberty. Unofficial LDS reaction, as posted on the Bloggernacle, is now showing up on By Common Consent, Messenger and Advocate, Mormanity, and From The Dust.
Jon Huntsman may not have been as "liked" as Mitt Romney, but he is highly respected by Utahns of all stripes. He didn't get his 85 percent approval rating solely because he looks like he stepped out of the pages of GQ Magazine. The selection of Jon Huntsman by Barack Obama isn't merely wise; it's inspired.