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New US ambassador to China says global issues test ties

By Charles Hutzler
Associated Press / September 3, 2009

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BEIJING - Wrangling over the troubled global economy, climate change, and security hot spots will test sometimes unsteady US-China relations the rest of this year, the new US ambassador to Beijing said yesterday.

A week and a half into his post, Ambassador Jon Huntsman said global, “big-picture issues’’ were coming to define relations between Washington and Beijing. At the top of President Obama’s instructions to him, he said, are shoring up the world economy, dealing with regional security troubles such as Iran and Pakistan, and securing an agreement on reducing greenhouse gas emissions to pave the way for a new worldwide global warming treaty.

Both governments will have ample opportunity to air their positions, from the attendance of China’s president, Hu Jintao, at an economic summit in Pittsburgh later this month to Obama’s planned Beijing visit in November and meetings of officials in between. Friction looms on trade disputes, including a White House decision on whether to impose punitive tariffs on surging imports of Chinese tires.

“We’ll put to the test the durability of the US-China relationship over the coming months,’’ Huntsman said in an interview with US reporters, his first since taking his post.

A Mandarin speaker from his days as a Mormon missionary in Taiwan, Huntsman, 49, has also served as a deputy US trade representative and US ambassador to Singapore. One of his seven children, a 10-year-old daughter, was adopted from the eastern Chinese city of Yangzhou and, he said, is excited to be back. “She has grown up in the United States but also recognizes what it means to be Chinese,’’ he said.

Among the benchmarks Huntsman said he set for himself in the next few months would be building up fragile relations and restarting the on-again, off-again dialogue on human rights.

Huntsman said his relationship with China goes back further than his official biography. In 1971, when he was 11, he went to the White House to visit his father, who was an aide. Huntsman said he carried the briefcase of Henry Kissinger, national security adviser, when he left on a secret visit to Beijing that restarted relations.

“I asked him where he was going. He said: ‘Please don’t tell anyone. I’m going to China,’ ’’ Huntsman said.