Jon Huntsman: Interviews with Journalist James Fallows and Historian Andrew Johns





Alexander Heffner, a freelance journalist, conducted and curated interviews with leading academics on the top GOP hopefuls. They will appear as part of an ongoing series on HNN.

James Fallows Interview

James Fallows is chair in U.S. media at the University of Sydney and national correspondent for The Atlantic.

Governor Jon Huntsman has more experience with/knowledge of China than any previous presidential candidate, true?  Doesn’t this give him the edge on domestic and foreign policy, given China’s economic impact on the United States and the entire globe?

I’m not sure how Jon Huntsman’s experience compares in the entirety of U.S. history.  The first president George Bush, after all, had opened the U.S. “interest office” in China in the mid-1970s, at the dawn of normalized relations between the countries.  Herbert Hoover had actually lived and worked in China for some time, as an engineer (and had some command of Mandarin).

But certainly among the current candidates, Jon Huntsman clearly has the most extensive overseas experience, by far—and not just with China. Whether or not this “gives him an edge” depends entirely on the judgment of the voters, starting in the Republican primary.

What do you think China-U.S. affairs/relations would look like under a President Huntsman who has lived in Asia multiple times?

To me the most striking aspect of U.S.-China relations in the modern era, from the Nixon administration through the Obama years, is their relative stability.  The leaders of both countries have consistently felt that they had an interest in treating the other as a potential partner rather than as a certain enemy.  On the other hand, deep disagreements remain.  I expect that this would continue under a President Huntsman—or practically any president who takes office in 2013.

Should Huntsman’s fluency with the Chinese tongue (Mandarin, etc.) and appreciation of the culture be important to voters?

What “should” and should not be important to voters is something just impossible to say.  It is entirely up to each of the tens of millions of voters.

Might we need a negotiator like Huntsman in these perilous global economic times?

Effective negotiators are always very important in a country’s array of strength.  But again the question for Huntsman’s critics will be:  if we need those skills, do we need them in the president?  (Versus the other traits a president has.)  Or can a president hire or lead a team of people with those skills.  It’s like the argument about military experience or scientific or business expertise.  An effective administration requires all those skills, but no single president can possibly have them all.  So voters judge which traits they want in the president himself or herself, and which others can be part of the team.

Andrew Johns Interview

Andrew Johns is Associate Professor of History at Brigham Young University and author of Vietnam’s Second Front.              

Governor Jon Huntsman has more experience with/knowledge of China than any previous presidential candidate, true?  Doesn’t this give him the edge on domestic and foreign policy, given China’s economic impact on the United States and the entire globe?

I would suggest that George H.W. Bush, who served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations; as the U.S. envoy to the People’s Republic of China for 14 months (acting unofficially as ambassador despite the lack of diplomatic relations between the United States and the PRC); and then as Director of Central Intelligence could boast at least comparable familiarity and expertise with the PRC as Huntsman.  To be sure, Huntsman’s fluency in Mandarin and experience living in China gives him a unique perspective.  But I am not convinced that it makes him a better candidate for the GOP nomination than anyone else—China is undoubtedly important, but there are other critical domestic and foreign policy issues on which he is no better (and on several much less) qualified than the other leading candidates.

What do you think China-U.S. affairs/relations would look like under a President Huntsman who has lived in Asia multiple times?

Although I highly doubt Huntsman could or will secure the GOP nomination, I would imagine that Sino-American relations would be fairly similar under a notional President Huntsman as under any Republican chief executive.  No matter one’s experience, the president is surrounded by experts on the country and is constrained by U.S. national interests and other factors.

Should Huntsman’s fluency with the Chinese tongue (Mandarin, etc.) and appreciation of the culture be important to voters?

It certainly could be a consideration if all other things were equal, but is likely not to be a deciding factor in voting for the GOP or national electorate.

Does Huntsman, a former ambassador, remind you of any past figures in America’s diplomatic core?

If you are referring to previous chief executives, numerous presidents have had extensive diplomatic experience prior to their administrations.  I would not blow Huntsman’s two years as ambassador to China out of proportion, however.  He reminds me quite a lot of former U.S. ambassador to South Vietnam Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. Lodge had presidential ambitions as well, but could not translate his diplomatic service into electoral success (despite having previously served as a U.S. senator from Massachusetts and as Nixon’s vice-presidential candidate in 1960).

Might we need a negotiator like Huntsman in these perilous global economic times?

I could certainly envision a scenario under which a GOP president after 2012 would use Huntsman in such negotiations.


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