Huntsman is leading trade mission to China

Published: Sunday, Oct. 15 2006 12:00 a.m. MDT

It isn't difficult to get Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. talking about China. Just a mention of the country can spark a lengthy discussion of everything from trade agreements to exotic foods — some of it in perfectly pronounced Mandarin.

It's the result of all the time he spent in that part of the world, first as a missionary in Taiwan for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, where he picked up the language, then as U.S. ambassador to Singapore, and later as a U.S. trade representative in the region.

Today, the governor heads back to China to lead a weeklong trade mission that will include meetings with government leaders in Beijing and Shanghai. He heads a delegation that includes representatives of more than a dozen Utah companies.

His goal is to establish with China the same type of relationship Utah already has with Mexico, thanks to his July 2005 visit to Mexico City and meeting with Mexican President Vicente Fox, and that he hopes to have eventually with Canada and India as well.

Huntsman likes to call it "foreign policy for a state that isn't supposed to have a foreign policy." States, of course, are not able to negotiate with foreign powers, so Utah's alliance with Mexico was never formalized.

It is, however, already producing ties between Utah companies and their counterparts in Mexico, as well as plans for educational and cultural exchanges. And Fox himself came to Utah, focusing the attention of the national and international media here.

"In China, we are there simply because of their prominence on the world stage and the way in which they are growing so rapidly," the governor told the Deseret Morning News. "We need to understand and capture those emerging opportunities."

On the map

Utah has plenty of competition from around the country and around the world for China's business. With a population of more than 1.3 billion, the Asian country is widely seen as one of the last largely untapped markets for many products and services.

"Everybody else is trying to go to China, not only from the United States but from Europe and all over the world," said Yanqi Tong, a University of Utah political science professor whose specialty is Chinese politics.

Tong, who studied at Peking University in her native Beijing before coming to the United States more than two decades ago, said Utah has a disadvantage to overcome in selling itself to the Chinese.

"A lot of people have never heard about Utah. The only thing they know about the United States is Washington and New York," she said. "The most important thing is name recognition. You have to really put your name on the map."

Huntsman agreed. In fact, the governor said, in the narration he recorded for a promotional film about Utah tourism that will be shown during this trip to travel officials, the state is identified as somewhere between Las Vegas and Yellowstone National Park.

Tong said that Utah does have something unique to offer — a governor who is at ease with the language and the culture. Huntsman is apparently the nation's only governor who speaks Mandarin, the language of China's government, business and educational elite.

"The Chinese in general are impressed if a foreigner can use chopsticks and speak Chinese. They know it is a difficult language," she said. "That will really win the governor some points, but how much, I don't know."

Diplomacy — and family

Kirk Jowers, head of the U.'s Hinckley Institute of Politics, also said that Huntsman's ability to communicate with the Chinese will make a big difference in how the state's efforts are perceived.

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