China's leader-in-waiting gives departing Huntsman thumbs up

BEIJING Thu Apr 21, 2011 8:07am EDT

U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman speaks to journalists in front of the Beijing High People's Court after an appeal of Xue Feng in Beijing, February 18, 2011. REUTERS/Petar Kujundzic HEADSHOT)

U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman speaks to journalists in front of the Beijing High People's Court after an appeal of Xue Feng in Beijing, February 18, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Petar Kujundzic HEADSHOT)

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BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping on Thursday lauded the departing U.S. ambassador, Jon Huntsman, who may enter the Republican presidential race, setting aside tension over human rights to hail an "old friend of the Chinese people."

Xi and Huntsman are both potential top leaders with an eye on 2012 and beyond, and Xi's unprompted praise stood out after weeks of testy exchanges with the United States over China's tightened grip on dissent.

Huntsman this month ends his time as the Obama administration's chief envoy in Beijing, during which he has taken on a high profile in challenging the ruling Communist Party's clampdown on dissidents and protesters.

But Huntsman, a former Republican governor of Utah who speaks fluent Chinese, has also promoted steadier ties after quarrels in 2010 over China's Internet controls, Tibet and the exiled Dalai Lama, and U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, the self-ruled island claimed by China.

Vice President Xi, who is likely to succeed President Hu Jintao as the top Communist Party and state leader from late 2012, appeared eager to stress Huntsman's bridge-building role as he looked to the ambassador's future.

"I must take the opportunity to say a few words about Ambassador Huntsman. His term is coming to an end and we are reluctant to see him go. You are an old friend of the Chinese people," Xi told Huntsman, who was accompanying a delegation of U.S. Senators led by the Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

"Let me express our appreciation for your contributions. We will never forget what you have done," Xi said in remarks made in the presence of reporters.

"I hope that wherever you work in the future that you come back to China often and continue to make contributions to friendship and cooperation between our two people."

Huntsman is exploring a possible run to seek the Republican Party's nomination for the 2012 presidential election, which would set him against Barack Obama. But Huntsman has not made any official announcements about that.

Huntsman has challenged China's recent crackdown on dissent openly and often.

"The United States will never stop supporting human rights," Huntsman said in a speech in Shanghai this month.

He singled out detained artist-activist Ai Weiwei as among the cases that Washington would continue to press.

Huntsman has also criticized the government over the beating of foreign reporters in Beijing, and met an outspoken human rights activist, Ni Yulan.

Huntsman was also briefly in a crowd that gathered in February on Beijing's Wangfujing shopping street, where online messages had called for a pro-democracy gathering inspired by anti-authoritarian uprisings across the Arab world.

U.S. officials later said Huntsman accidentally came across the gathering, which was smothered by police security and spurred Beijing to take even tougher steps to rein in dissidents.

China has welcomed U.S. President Barack Obama's nomination of Commerce Secretary Gary Locke as Huntsman's successor in Beijing.

(Reporting by Chris Buckley; Editing by Robert Birsel)

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Comments (2)
cocostar wrote:
If China loves him so much he can forget the idea of running for president. There aren’t very many people in America that are in love with the Chinese at the moment. I wonder if trump would manipulate our currency?

Apr 21, 2011 12:45pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
marisa70394 wrote:
China hopes that Huntsman becomes president since he would be considered quite weak by China. Huntsman did say a few choice things to the Chinese leadership about Ai Weiwei. The reason why China can treat its citizens this way is because, as far as the Chinese authorities are concerned, Chinese citizens, no matter where they are in the world, are the property of China. They don’t have to explain what they do with their citizens. In fact, they don’t have to explain what they do with anyone. The Chinese leaders are above the law, any and all law, since they consider themselves gods. After all, they are the richest people in the world. I’m referring to the 9 member politburo which runs the country. They don’t think they have to answer to anybody. They are not elected by the people, but make it to the top by being ideologically brutal. The more ideological, the higher they go. They know the formula. Regarding Ai Weiwei, the poltiburo has given orders that he be locked up and while the entire world frets over it, the leaders of China sleep well and smile in their dreams about how miserable they make people who have good hearts towards others.

Apr 21, 2011 8:41pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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