Wednesday evening, students gathered in a Huntsman Hall auditorium for a discussion with 1987 College graduate Jon Huntsman, Jr., the 16th governor of Utah, former United States Ambassador to China and 2012 Republican presidential candidate. Professors Avery Goldstein and William Burke-White moderated the discussion, called “The U.S. and China: Where We Go From Here.”
Recalling his days in Beijing as the American ambassador, Huntsman described an event at a bookstore associated with political dissidents where he spoke to young Chinese citizens. He said he sensed that the young generation is eager to “have a conversation that is not taking place right now” within the current political climate in China.
Although the Chinese government severely restricts access to certain types of information online, including social networking sites like Facebook, Huntsman pointed out how young people are able to easily avoid the digital “Great Wall” with an virtual private network. He added that his daughter, 2008 College graduate Abby Huntsman, used this approach to access the internet when she visited him in Beijing.
He said that “ultimately China will enter an early form of civil society,” noting that access to prohibited information online will facilitate this transition.
Huntsman is the son of 1959 Wharton graduate Jon Huntsman, Sr., the namesake of Huntsman Hall. Responding to comment about the name of the building in which the discussion took place, Huntsman joked he was glad he wasn’t “asked for an ID” when he entered the building.
He also discussed President Donald Trump’s relationship with China, remarking that neither Trump nor Vice President Mike Pence have ever visited the country and that Trump emphasizes domestic issues.
At the event, Huntsman criticized Trump’s decision to speak on the phone with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen before his inauguration. However, he said Trump’s recent statements affirming his commitment to the One China policy — that Taiwan is an inseparable part of China — ameliorated the damage caused by Trump’s earlier actions.
Foreign policy is sometimes “hobbled by U.S. political system,” Huntsman added, because politicians may oversimplify international issues in their campaign rhetoric.
Commenting on the future of U.S.-China relations surrounding North Korea, Huntsman said that American policy often has a short-term focus while China “is one of the best long-term strategic thinkers.”
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