Huntsman, Former U.S. Ambassador, Says China Denied Him Entry
By Mark McDonald - International Herald Tribune - The Global Edition of the New York Times
October 18, 2012
China was at the center of one of the harshest exchanges during the U.S. presidential debate on Tuesday night, with President Barack Obama and his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, both flashing their tough-on-Beijing credentials. But the politician who really knows about China was not on the stage, although he had tried to be.
Jon M. Huntsman Jr., who campaigned for the Republican nomination, has solid connections to both candidates: He served as the U.S. ambassador to China under Mr. Obama until April 2011, and when Mr. Huntsman abandoned his campaign in January, he immediately endorsed Mr. Romney.
As they prep and do role playing for their final debate, both candidates might do well to recruit Mr. Huntsman for a lay of the land on China. The debate, set for Monday in Boca Raton, Florida, will focus on foreign policy issues, with China one of the selected topics.
In a fascinating new interview with Isaac Stone Fish of Foreign Policy magazine, Mr. Huntsman was asked about the differences between the two candidates in their approach to China.
"Well, they differ in some senses in the levers of power that are being pulled," he said. "I think Obama has chosen more the soft levers of power, and Romney is at least articulating some of the hard levers of power, where in reality, we need a combination of both.
"During campaign season, you never want to talk about anything except the hard levers of power. But we're also trying to get over 10 years of war in the Middle East that have set us back enormously economically and diplomatically, and in terms of loss of life. And that's a reality that we're not having a conversation about."
Beijing canceled Mr. Huntsman's visa last month, he told Mr. Stone Fish, as he was preparing to travel to China to make a speech. (This probably has not happened very often in peacetime diplomacy, a country refusing entry to a former ambassador, especially for fear that he would give a speech.)
"Why? Because I talk too much about human rights and American values, and they know that," said Mr. Huntsman, who speaks Mandarin. "And at a time of leadership realignment, the biggest deal in 10 years for them, they didn't want the former U.S. ambassador saying stuff that might create a narrative that they would have to fight. I understand that.
"But when the transition is done, the crazy American ambassador will be let back in, and I can say whatever I want. As they used to tell me when I was over there was 'Women zhongguo ye you zhengzhi' -- 'We have politics too in China.' "
Mr. Huntsman said he was subsequently approved for entry -- to attend a board meeting. No speechmaking.
A condensed excerpt from Mr. Stone Fish's interview:
Put yourself in the shoes of the moderator at the upcoming foreign-policy debate on Oct. 22. What do you think he should ask about China?
What are the core philosophical drivers that inform the thinking of the candidates? What are our national interests at play? How do we maximize our position in the Asia-Pacific region, understanding that China is the centerpiece geographically. And fourth, given that it is the relationship of the 21st century, how do we intend to sustain the cyclicality that is inherent in a large, complicated relationship?
Are you surprised that China hasn't become a bigger issue in the campaign?
Beyond it being used as a political tool rhetorically, we've had very little talk of China at a time when we ought to be having a substantive conversation, because it is the relationship that will matter the most in the 21st century.
What's your understanding of what Chinese officials think about all this rhetoric and what's behind it? Do they see this as one of the downsides of democracy, or of Americans playing into the fears of American decline?
I think it's happened for so long that they've grown to expect it during the election season. I think it affected them more in the earlier years, but now they've grown accustomed to the political cycle, just as we've grown accustomed to the leadership cycles in China, where they do the same thing to us. We just have a bigger megaphone. And they tend to be a little more sensitive, because face still matters a whole lot in terms of human interaction.
The current U.S. ambassador to China, Gary F. Locke, revealed Wednesday that he had traveled last month to a Tibetan area of western China where "dozens of Tibetans disaffected with Chinese rule have set themselves on fire," as my colleague Edward Wong reported.
Mr. Locke visited two Tibetan Buddhist monasteries in Aba Prefecture of Sichuan Province. He went there, he told The Times, "to see it for myself."
The visit, which came during a wider trip to Chongqing, was noteworthy if only for the fact that Beijing permitted it. The area is tightly controlled by Chinese security forces and the issue of Tibetan autonomy and Buddhist activism is a highly sensitive one for Beijing.
Mr. Locke only revealed his trip on Wednesday. And for those belonging to the there-are-no-coincidences-in-politics school of thought, it was five years ago on Wednesday -- Oct. 17, 2007 -- that the Dalai Lama received the Congressional Gold Medal in Washington.
The award was met with fury and outrage from Beijing, and one senior official called it a "farce." The Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader who has lived in exile since 1959, is particularly reviled by the leadership in Beijing.
President George W. Bush attended the elaborate ceremony in the Capitol Rotunda and called the Dalai Lama "a man of faith and sincerity and peace."