ABC News' Michael Falcone reports:
United States Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman delivered a “farewell” speech in Shanghai on Wednesday less than a month before he is expected to leave his post there to begin campaigning for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination.
In his remarks, Hunstman chastised the Chinese government for its human rights record and called for closer cooperation between the two countries, lamenting that “too often, divisions dominate our discourse and sap our ability to work together.”
“The United States will never stop supporting human rights because we believe in the fundamental struggle for human dignity and justice wherever it may occur,” Huntsman said. “We do so not because we oppose China but, on the contrary, because we value our relationship.”
He mentioned American scientist Dr. Feng Xue, who he said “was wrongfully convicted of stealing state secrets and is now serving an eight-year sentence in prison far from his family in the United States” as well as social activists like Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo, who is imprisoned in the country, as well as Ai Weiwei, a Beijing artist who was taken into custody by Chinese authorities last weekend.
Hunstman commended Liu, Ai and others like them who “challenge the Chinese government to serve the public in all cases and at all times.”
“By speaking out candidly,” he noted, “we hope eventually to narrow and bridge this critical gap and move our relationship forward.”
The comments were said to be unusually critical for a U.S. diplomat in China.
“I know China also has strongly held views on certain issues that differ from ours, and it would be a mistake for us not to listen to their opinions and to try to understand the Chinese perspective,” Huntsman said. “We not only need to listen but we also need to hear each other. Cutting off dialogue and suppressing the news media does not help us understand each other. If specific differences, no matter how sensitive at the moment, are allowed to define the entire relationship, then we all will suffer.”
He added, “Global challenges will not pause to wait for upturns in our bilateral relationship; just the opposite — they will only worsen while we remain disengaged.”
Huntsman tempered his remarks with examples of how the U.S. and China have successfully worked together. “I know from visiting the Yushu earthquake site on the Tibetan Plateau last year that U.S. humanitarian assistance has saved Chinese lives. … I have seen U.S. and Chinese experts work together to improve public health and prevent pandemic disease outbreaks. … I have watched U.S. and Chinese scientists jointly conduct advanced research on clean energy technologies.”
Speculation that Huntsman, who announced earlier this year that was leaving his diplomatic post in China on April 30, will throw his hat into the presidential ring has been swirling for months. A team of supporters have formed a political action committee, Horizon PAC, to function as a kind of campaign-in-waiting for the ambassador who is legally unable to engage in campaign activity. Sources close to the PAC believe he’s all-but-certain to run.
Here’s at least one clue about his presidential ambitions: Huntsman plans to travel in New Hampshire, a crucial early nominating state, less than a month after he returns from Beijing to deliver a commencement speech at Southern New Hampshire University. That speech, announced yesterday, is scheduled for May 21 in Manchester.