SARASOTA – In 1971, as the son of a Nixon White House associate cabinet administrator, young Jon Huntsman was informally introduced to a man with a German accent named Henry Kissinger. On his way out the door, the future secretary of state shared a secret with the inquisitive 11-year-old who would one day serve five presidents:
“Don’t tell anyone. I’m going to China.”
Huntsman related the tale — “Was I there at creation?” he asked a chuckling Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall audience Monday morning — in order to drive home a larger point: relations with Beijing should be a critical component of next year’s presidential debates. But the Republican who served as President Barack Obama’s ambassador to China worries that Beltway politics have become impossibly polarized, and at the expense of America’s vital national interests.
In an address sponsored by the Ringling College Library Association’s Lecture Series, Huntsman acknowledged Sarasota’s roots by declaring presidential politicking the “most circus-like event on Earth,” fueled by theatrics and entertainment over substance.
Utah’s two-term governor made an early departure from the GOP’s 2012 primary race, after participating in more than a dozen debates bloated with “prepackaged sound bites” and little substance.
“I answered one question in Chinese, I was so bored that night,” Huntsman recalled of one otherwise forgettable televised rituals.
With stateless actors like ISIS and their horrific execution videos dominating foreign policy chatter on Capitol Hill, Huntsman says “we have no eyes on China,” which is in the throes of a massive structural transition, with long-term implications for American security interests in the balance.