When US ambassador to China Jon Huntsman stood outside a Beijing courthouse Friday to pronounce publicly his disappointment with its conviction of a Chinese-born American for industrial espionage, some observers might have thought he had his eyes set on more than simple justice.
They would have been doing Mr. Huntsman an injustice. Sure, he has said he will leave his job in April, and yes, close friends say he is considering a run for the White House. But the former Utah governor’s public run-in with the Chinese authorities did not seem to be fashioned to appeal to voters in Republican primaries.
Huntsman had been to visit the prisoner in question, Xue Feng, a number of times in jail before today’s failed appeal, without any public fanfare. When he met Mr. Xue after the hearing Friday, it was their eighth encounter.
“This case has been brought up in every senior meeting that I’ve been involved with for almost two years,” the ambassador told reporters. “We have not let this one go and I can tell you now we are not going to let it go, even after today’s decision. He is an American citizen.”
Mr. Xue, a Chinese-American geologist working for a US company, was arrested in 2007 for selling a database on China’s oil industry that he has always claimed was a commercially available product. The Chinese government classified it a state secret only after he had sold it, his defense lawyer has argued.
On Friday, the court upheld Xue’s conviction and his eight-year prison sentence.
Huntsman had another brush with the authorities earlier this week, when he posted comments on a Twitter-like Chinese micro-blog service drawing attention to a speech US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had made about Internet freedom.
Chinese censors wiped his comments off the site.