Huntsman's comment spurs debate in China

Following Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman's comment about what will 'take China down,' Chinese commentators debate what he meant.

Jonathan Ernst/Reuters
Former Utah governor Jon Huntsman at the Republican foreign policy debate.

One advantage Jon Huntsman has going for him in his bid for the Republican presidential nomination is the fact that he understands China better than any of his rivals.

He was ambassador here for a couple of years, so he ought to.

Mr. Huntsman also knows that anything anyone in his position says in America about China will be instantly published here, so he won’t have been too surprised to hear that his comments the other day at the Republican candidates’ foreign policy debate have sparked a bit of a debate in China too.

Asked about his China policy, Huntsman said something interesting, that “we should be reaching out to our allies and constituencies within China. They’re called the young people. They’re called the internet generation….and they are bringing about change the likes of which is going to take China down.”

Whether he is right or wrong about this generation, some commentators here have taken his talk of “taking China down” badly.

In China, Washington is widely believed to have stirred up the democratic “color revolutions” in former Soviet satellites such as Ukraine and Georgia, and Huntsman’s comment is being seen in this context.

“Making use of the internet to promote US values and then trigger political unrest can make the authorities lose control,” argued Chen Bing, a news commentator on the popular Shenzhen satellite TV channel. “Huntsman’s is not a new idea.”

There is also a widespread feeling that the United States’ goal is to keep China down, and Huntsman’s remark has fed that fear.

“No matter whether we are a dictatorship or a democracy, the US just wants to take down China’s manufacturing industry,” claimed one blogger joining an online discussion of Huntsman's comment.

Others took the former ambassador’s point, and supported him. “Isn’t it a good thing to take down China’s autocracy?” asked one.

But Chinese observers are familiar enough with the American political process not to take anything they hear during a presidential campaign too seriously. “When Huntsman was ambassador he was comparatively friendly to China,” pointed out Mr. Chen. Now he is a candidate “he has to criticize China and talk about containing China if he wants to win.”

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