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Obama selects potential rival to be senior diplomat in China

US President Barack Obama reached across the political divide yesterday and named Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, a potential Republican presidential contender in 2012, to the sensitive diplomatic post of US ambassador to China.

Fluent in Mandarin from his days as a Mormon missionary in Taiwan, the 49-year-old Huntsman is a popular two-term governor who served in both Bush administrations and was national co-chairman of Arizona Senator John McCain's campaign against Obama last year.

With Huntsman by his side, Obama said in brief remarks in the White House Diplomatic Room that he made the appointment "mindful of its extraordinary significance."

"Given the breadth of issues at stake in our relationship with China, this ambassadorship is as important as any in the world because the United States will best be able to deal effectively with global challenges in the 21st century by working in concert with China," Obama said.

Huntsman said he never expected "to be called into action by the person who beat us. But I grew up understanding that the most basic responsibility one has is service to country. 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."

Huntsman ended his remarks with his favorite Chinese saying, speaking in Mandarin: "Together we work, together we progress."

His positions on the environment and other issues have led some to consider him a potential contender for president in 2012.

In a 2006 speech at Shanghai Normal University, Huntsman spoke of the need for China and the US to work together on environmental issues.

"The United States and China must be good examples and stewards of the Earth. We must match economic progress with environmental stewardship. The effects of industrialization are felt worldwide," Huntsman said at the Shanghai university.

Huntsman's career began as a staff assistant in the Ronald Reagan administration and he also served as ambassador to Singapore under President George H.W. Bush and as a deputy US trade representative and US trade ambassador under President George W. Bush.

Before becoming governor in 2005, Huntsman made a fortune as chairman and chief executive of his family business, Huntsman Corp, a global chemical manufacturer. Revenues last year exceeded US$10 billion.

Huntsman and his wife Mary Kaye have seven children, including adopted daughters from China and India.

If confirmed by the Senate, Huntsman will succeed Clark Randt, the longest-serving US ambassador to China since the two nations established diplomatic ties.


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