Utah Governor Accepts Nomination for China Ambassadorship

May 17, 2009 Updated: October 1, 2015
Mary Anne, Jon III, Governor Jon Huntsman, Mary Kaye, Elizabeth, Will, and Gracie Mei (Courtesy of Governor's Office)
Mary Anne, Jon III, Governor Jon Huntsman, Mary Kaye, Elizabeth, Will, and Gracie Mei (Courtesy of Governor's Office)

SALT LAKE CITY—Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, Jr. achieved the greatest desire of his life, according to one of his acquaintances. She said that it has been his greatest desire for many years to represent the United States as ambassador to China. In an unexpected move, President Obama named Huntsman, a moderate Republican, his choice for this key ambassadorship on Saturday. Whether Huntsman’s views on human rights will fit with this administration’s China policy remains to be seen.

Obama commented to Huntsman that the call to serve as Ambassador might be difficult for Huntsman to explain to his Republican colleagues.

Huntsman, who was a former national co-chairman for Senator John McCain’s presidential campaign, said he never expected “to be called into action by the person who beat us.”

He added, "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."

Several analysts have commented that Obama’s team did their homework, since Huntsman has been seen as potentially the greatest Republican presidential threat to Obama’s second term.

Utah’s Governor

His greatest contribution to the State of Utah is seen as his ability to organize a strong team and provide incentives and partnerships for business and the people of Utah. This approach includes not only the expansion of businesses into Utah, but extensive research and development stimulus to build a base of new technologies for future development.

Under his governorship, Utah has become a leading state in many major studies and rankings as an excellent place to live and do business.

Huntsman remains fluent in the Chinese Mandarin language he learned as a Mormon missionary to Taiwan.  His love for the Chinese people was further exhibited by his and his wife Mary Kaye’s decision to adopt a child from China, Gracie Mei. The Huntsman’s have seven children; two are adopted, Grace Mei from China, the other from India. He has publicly stated that he personally teaches their adopted children about their native cultures.

His dedication to family is well known, The governor has been seen pushing a baby stroller with Mary Kaye walking with another child on the steep sidewalks of the Avenues District above the Governor’s Mansion.

Aside from government service, Huntsman’s family owns Huntsman Chemical Company, which has significant holdings internationally and in China. He was the chief executive officer of Huntsman Family Holdings, LLC, before his governorship.

Human Rights

Huntsman has a reputation for compassion. In March 2008 at the ribbon cutting of the Grace Mary Manor apartments, a newly completed complex to serve chronically homeless people in Salt Lake City, he took time to speak with formerly homeless people in the audience. His face showed sincere concern for them. Speakers at the ribbon-cutting praised the governor’s efforts for the homeless. 

Huntsman demonstrated his interest in standing up for the rights of others by being involved in a protest in front of the Chinese embassy in Washington, D.C., during the communist regime’s crackdown at Tiananmen Square in 1989, while he was working for the Department of Commerce.

Regarding the human rights protests that followed the Olympic Torch Relay in 2008, Huntsman said, "I think we ought to be totally American about it, in terms of our expressions of outrage and concern and speaking up front and openly as we always do as Americans." (as reported in the Deseret News April 8, 2008).

The current administration has previously taken a position of “not lecturing China on human rights.” A press statement from the administration for today’s event seemed to contradict that position: “Governor 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.”

Nonetheless, the outspokenness of Governor Huntsman seems an odd fit with the Obama administration’s approach to China.