Huntsman’s Running Mate: China

On the campaign trail in New Hampshire, The New York Times notes a growing curiosity with Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman’s Chinese language skills and his experience as America’s ambassador to Beijing:

At his campaign stops, people young and old have approached Mr. Huntsman with a chipper “Ni hao” (hello) or “Ni hao ma” (how are you). Some have waded through the gauntlet of television cameras to tell Mr. Huntsman, the former ambassador to China, about their trip to Beijing, their dining experiences in Hong Kong or their son’s college semester in Shanghai.

Mr. Huntsman, who learned Mandarin as a Mormon in Taiwan in the 1980s, has sprinkled Chinese phrases around the campaign trail for months, including in Saturday’s debate. When former Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts said he would not let China “kill American jobs any longer,” Mr. Huntsman quipped in Mandarin, “He doesn’t understand the situation.”

Reuters points out that Huntsman wouldn’t be the first president to speak Chinese, even if his claims to fluency have come under scrutiny in recent months. Huntsman has also criticized his GOP rivals for anti-China pandering during the campaign, and in turn has come under fire for his China ties. One Ron Paul support group posted a video on YouTube questioning Huntsman’s values and calling him “the Manchurian Candidate,” though Paul disavowed the ad. After Republican frontrunner Mitt Romney attacked Huntsman in a weekend debate for serving as ambassador to China under President Barack Obama, a Democrat, fellow candidate Newt Gingrich called Romney “narrow-minded” and defended Huntsman’s credentials. From AFP:

“Governor Huntsman had lived for years in Asia, speaks fluent Chinese, is extraordinarily prepared to be the American ambassador to China and I suspect at that point he took it as a citizen” out of a sense of duty, said Gingrich.

“There are plenty of things that we can argue about without impugning the motives of somebody who has served this country at considerable personal inconvenience,” said the former lawmaker.

Huntsman, who had offered a wobbly defense of his time in Beijing in a debate late Saturday, took the fight to Romney in a Sunday face-off, saying the millionaire venture capitalist had attacked him for “putting my country first” at a time when Romney was raising cash to run for his presidential campaign.

Today, The China Daily shrugged off the anti-China rhetoric as campaign posturing that will subside following the election:

Analysts said due to the changing balance of power between the United States and China, US presidential candidates tend to propose tough policies on China and make China an eye-catching topic to gain votes.

Shen Dingli, director of the Center for American Studies at Shanghai-based Fudan University, said the presidential candidates have no other choice but to criticize China in the election, as the US is in a phase of relatively rapid decline.

“But such criticism is only made for the purposes of the election campaign, and the winner of the election would return to rational policies on China after assuming office,” Shen told China Daily.

Shen from Fudan University said China doesn’t have to care too much about such criticism during an election year, and no reaction to the US election campaign is the best way to guarantee a smooth transition in bilateral relations in 2012.