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Editorial: Ambassador to China

Published May 16, 2009 12:27 am

Jon Huntsman Jr. is consummate choice
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2009, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

President Obama could not have picked a better-qualified candidate than Jon Huntsman Jr. to be U.S. ambassador to China. We say that not because of local pride that Huntsman is Utah's governor, but because his education, diplomatic and political experience and his personal enthusiasms and temperament make him the consummate choice.

It is as though Huntsman has deliberately scripted his life to prepare for this nomination. And maybe he has. There long has been speculation in Utah that this is the job Huntsman really has aspired to.

All things considered, there is no doubt that he is the right man for a posting to Beijing, and the U.S. Senate should promptly add its consent to the nomination.

Most Utah political junkies can recite his qualifications. Speaks fluent Mandarin Chinese. Former ambassador to Singapore. Former deputy U.S. trade representative. Bachelor's degree in international politics from Penn. Served a two-year Mormon mission to Taiwan. Adopted a daughter from China. Has led U.S. trade delegations there.

That Huntsman is a moderate Republican from a deeply conservative GOP state helps the president's attempts to build bipartisan support for his agenda. We don't doubt that this was part of the president's political calculation in nominating Huntsman.

It doesn't hurt Obama, either, to send Huntsman on a diplomatic mission to Beijing, far from domestic U.S. politics. The second-term Utah governor has gained national notice lately as a rising star in a younger generation of moderate Republican leaders who could help lead their party out of the wilderness and back to power in Washington, perhaps as a challenger to Obama himself.

If there is a down side to this nomination, it is that the nation's gain will be Utah's loss. Huntsman immense popularity -- 83 percent approval -- has allowed him to be the fulcrum in Utah politics and a check against the agenda-setting right wing in the Legislature that dismisses global warming as a myth and is anti-gay rights.

Huntsman's leadership in the Western States Climate Initiative, his support for civil unions for gays, his reform of eccentric Utah liquor laws and his opposition to unlimited off-road vehicles tearing up public lands are prominent examples. (His credentials on climate change could be important in Beijing, where the United States must press the world's most populous nation and a major industrial power to join the international effort.)

It won't hurt, either, that the would-be ambassador is a former chemical company executive who can read a spreadsheet and knows industrial pollution issues from both sides.

Unfortunately, Lt. Gov. Gary Herbert, who would succeed Huntsman as Utah's governor, is on the wrong side of many of those issues at a time when the heavily urban and traditionally conservative Utah populace appears to be inching more toward the center.

The ambassadorship to China is arguably the most important in U.S. diplomacy, and we wholeheartedly endorse Jon Huntsman Jr. as the right man at the right time for the job.