Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman said Thursday he would work with the Chinese government to shore up the global economy and to persuade North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons effort if he is confirmed as ambassador to China.
Huntsman also promised the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to pursue human rights issues and to encourage China to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. He said he was encouraged by the recent relaxation in tensions between the Chinese government and Taiwan.
"I look forward to a robust engagement with China on human rights," said Huntsman, who was a Mormon missionary in China in his youth and speaks fluent Mandarin Chinese.
He said human rights has been "an on-again, off-again discussion" between the U.S. and China. He said he'd like to "regularize and systematize" human rights talks "so that it isn't a once a year discussion where the talking points are pulled out and then dispensed with."
Huntsman indicated he intends to emphasize the opportunities for trade in emissions control and renewable energy technologies in his talks with Chinese officials on global warming.
"I know what a market opportunity this is going to be for us," Huntsman said.
He noted the U.S. and China together account for nearly half the world's greenhouse gas emissions. If the two countries can't tackle the problem, "no one is going to do it for us," he said.
Huntsman praised the Chinese government for working closely with the U.S. and the United Nations Security Council "to respond to North Korea's provocations."
"Achieving a denuclearized Korean peninsula is going to require some complicated and delicate bilateral and multilateral diplomacy," Huntsman said. "We need to continue working closely with China to convince North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program."
Senators were so lavish in their praise for Huntsman that the nominee quipped he hopes he does as well at his funeral. He was introduced at the hearing by Senator John McCain of Arizona and Utah's senators, Orrin Hatch and Bob Bennett.
Potential GOP presidential candidate in 2012?
Committee chairman John Kerry, D-Mass., said the nomination of Huntsman — a Republican — by President Barack Obama honors the best tradition of bipartisanship in foreign policy.
Huntsman is considered a potential GOP presidential candidate in 2012. He is a former ambassador to Singapore, has led trade missions to China and has two adopted daughters, one from China and one from India.
"Thankfully there have not been border disputes yet around their bedrooms," he joked.
After the hearing, Huntsman was mobbed by Chinese news media. He answered their questions in Mandarin. When a Utah reporter asked him what he had said, he displayed his diplomatic skills: "I told them Utah was the best state in the United States."