Vice President Xi Jinping has described departing US ambassador Jon Huntsman as “an old friend of the Chinese people”. Xi is likely to step up to China’s presidency next year, while Huntsman is widely expected to run for America’s. The diplomat has taken a vocal stance on human rights during his two-year tenure but, according to Reuters:
… 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.”
For an example of Huntsman’s outspokenness, see his remarks on Ai Weiwei for the 2011 TIME 100 list:
Ai Weiwei is the kind of visionary any nation should be proud to count among its creative class. He has drawn the world’s attention to the vibrancy of contemporary Chinese culture. More important, Ai, 53, has shown compassion for his fellow citizens and spoken out for victims of government abuses, calling for political reforms to better serve the people. It is very sad that the Chinese government has seen a need to silence one of its most innovative and illustrious citizens. For the world, Ai continues to represent the promise of China.
President Obama has also been lavishing praise upon Huntsman in a bid to alienate him from potential supporters. Fond words from a future Chinese leader may well have a similar effect. See: Huntsman Worked for Obama. Can He Beat Him?