Huntsman's ambassadorship in China ends Saturday

Published: Thursday, April 28 2011 10:00 p.m. MDT

Jon Huntsman Jr.

Bob Brown, Bob Brown, Deseret News

WASHINGTON — Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. is about to add former U.S. ambassador to China to his resume.

Huntsman's time as ambassador officially ends Saturday, and the family has been packing for a move to the Washington, D.C., area, where he'll begin weighing a run for president.

But neither he or nor his wife are giving in hints as to his political future.

In an interview earlier this month at the U.S. ambassador's personal residence in Beijing, Huntsman said he and his family haven’t yet made any decisions.

"For the first time now in over 10 years, we're kind of looking now beyond, as private citizens, looking at where life will then take us," he said.

Added his wife, May Kaye: "We are looking forward to spending more time with our kids.  (There have) been a lot of hellos, a lot of goodbyes, a lot of tears, a lot of children bouncing back and forth."

Asked to compare his role as ambassador with chief executive of Utah, Huntsman said, "When you’re the governor, you are out there on point and create a vision for a state and you execute. If you don’t get the job done, you’re held responsible. You can’t run and you can’t hide."

As ambassador, "the job is more of a team sport," he said.

As the "team captain" in China, Huntsman hosted a reception, in two languages, for dignitaries from China and from Utah, there on a trade mission with Gov. Gary Herbert.  He also interacted with ordinary Chinese people while jogging with his friend Rich Hartvigsen in Shanghai a few years back.

“We couldn’t go a hundred yards, but he had to stop and have a conversation,” Hartvigsen said. "And these are the common people, the people who are sweeping the streets and selling goods by the side of the road.”

Huntsman will be moving from a home tied to other prominent political figures. The family lives near the spot where Nixon broke the ice with China in 1972 with a famous handshake. A tour upstairs reveals the rooms George and Barbara Bush shared when Bush senior served here, where George W. Bush stayed when he visited.

The Huntsman's youngest son, Will, who played football at Judge Memorial High, stays downstairs. He soon joins his older brother, Jon, at the Naval Academy, where he was recruited to play.

Youngest daughters Asha, adopted from India, and Gracie Mei, adopted from southern China, are well known in China — Gracie so much so the Chinese honored her with a stamp.

“She’s being celebrated on the stamp as one of the 10 most famous citizens of Ghangzhou,” Huntsman said. “I think it’s an extraordinary tale, and I think Gracie is trying to make sense of it all.”

Huntsman declined to entertain specific questions about U.S. politics. Still, he responded to anticipated criticism from others in the GOP to agreeing to work for a Democrat, saying his duty is not unlike service in the military.

“Nobody stops to ask what your president's political persuasion is,” he said. “When you're asked to serve, you serve, and you salute and you do your best for your country. And I think that's been a time-tested value in public service, and if it's good enough for my sons, it's good enough for me."

The Huntsmans seem ready for new challenges.

"It's on one hand exhilarating, because you have a free hand to begin thinking like you've never been able to think before and a little more freedom to do the things you want to do with family," Huntsman said.

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