Jon Huntsman, Jr., Penn alum and former governor of Utah, spoke at Huntsman Hall on February 15 in a forum titled U.S. and China: Where We Go From Here. Huntsman participated in a question and answer session on U.S.-China relations based on his public service experience, which has ranged from working as staff assistant for President Reagan to serving as U.S. Ambassador to China under President Obama.
Avery Goldstein, Penn professor of Global Politics and International Relations, and William Burke-White, Penn Law professor and director of Perry World House, moderated the discussion before opening it to questions from the audience.
Before answering any questions, Huntsman stated that he was glad to be back in the “welcoming…beautiful” environment at Penn and nodded at the resumes of his moderators, saying, “Kudos to all of you.”
Goldstein first questioned the former governor on reciprocity for business and media access between the U.S. and China, asking, “Should we restrict Chinese access if they want to be restricting us?”
Huntsman indicated that actions for reciprocity are politically feasible and more likely than a tariff war. “I think reciprocity and the whole notion of reciprocity in trade is indeed gaining currency,” he stated.
Huntsman also commented on the call between then-President-elect Trump and Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-Wen in November. He noted that President Trump, Vice President Pence, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, prior to taking office, had been limited to experience in private sector interactions with China. “So specifically as a developer from New York having never been in foreign policy how do you start? You’ve gotta find leverage in the game, gotta find capital.”
The former ambassador noted that he believes President Trump was using communications with Taiwan to place pressure on Beijing by threatening the U.S.’s long-standing One China policy.
Huntsman believes Trump can negotiate without repudiating the One China policy, however, stating,“I think Trump is a pragmatist…operational as a deal maker.”
Moderators and audience members peppered Huntsman with questions about North Korea, artificial islands in the South China Sea, and Pacific trade negotiations. Huntsman offered a unifying trend among these issues.
“Americans are some of the best short-term strategists in the world…the Chinese are some of the best long-term strategists in the world,” he stated. Huntsman also predicted positive trends in human rights and free trade given the right negotiating tactics.
The former ambassador believes that diplomats can make serious strides if the U.S. is empathetic to China’s needs while standing up for Western values. “I think we have to be who we are – and we have a brand in America, whether Republican or Democrat, and we have a brand that speaks to democracy and human rights. I think if we try to diminish who we are, we diminish ourselves.”