By Lisa Riley Roche
Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. was named Saturday by President Barack Obama to be U.S. ambassador to China.
“I wasn’t looking for a new job in life, but a call from the president changed that,” Huntsman said, standing beside Obama at a White House press conference.
Obama described the importance of the post and asked Utahns to forgive him for taking away a popular governor.
“There are few countries in the world with a past so rich or a future so full of possibilities as China, with a vast population, growing economy and far-reaching influence, China will have a crucial role in confronting all the major challenges that face Asia and the world in the years ahead,” the president said.
During the early morning announcement, President Obama noted the GOP governor had played a key role in the campaign of his rival for the White House, Arizona Sen. John McCain. “I know Jon is the kind of leader who always put country ahead of party,” the president said, noting he understood Huntsman’s decision to join a Democratic administration would not be easy to explain to some in the GOP.
The appointment of Huntsman means Lt. Gov. Gary Herbert will take over as the state’s chief executive. Huntsman, a Republican, met late last year with representatives of the Democratic president’s administration about a possible appointment.
The governor, 49, has served as U.S. ambassador to Singapore, and was on a short list to fill the same role in China under President George W. Bush. He was also a U.S. trade ambassador to the region and has negotiated agreements with the Chinese government.
Huntsman speaks fluent Mandarin Chinese learned for an LDS Church mission to Taiwan. He and his wife, Mary Kaye, adopted a daughter from China.