He’s not well known in the U.S. yet, but the American ambassador to China is fast gaining notoriety here.
Jon Huntsman, Jr., was spotted last Sunday outside McDonald’s in the heavily-trafficked shopping district of Wangfujing in the capital.
His appearance wouldn’t have generated much interest (Huntsman is known here for his unorthodox style as America’s top representative in China) except for the little fact that a would-be revolution was under way exactly where the ambassador was standing.
In fact, Huntsman’s presence – which the U.S. embassy in Beijing says was part of a “family outing” and “purely coincidental” – has generated controversy on a number of fronts.
For one, the senior diplomat is due to leave his post in April after serving just eighteen months. Although he has not publicly confirmed it, the Republican and ex-governor of Utah is widely believed to be exploring a run for the 2012 presidential race. (This week saw the launch of a political action committee website for his campaign-in-waiting.) That, obviously, would pit him against his current boss, President Barack Obama.
If that weren’t awkward enough, a video capturing Huntsman walking by the designated protest location has been circulating on the Internet, propelled by a website set up by Chinese nationalists. The site M4.cn is a retooled version of Anti-CNN.com, which critiqued but mostly criticized Western reporting of the 2008 Tibet unrest.
Whether or not Huntsman was there by design or by accident, Adam Minter, an American writer in Shanghai, argues his appearance does raise the curious question whether it was for the benefit of the Chinese audience or the U.S. audience.
It looks like Huntsman's name has gone the way of "jasmine." Searches for his name on Chinese microblogs are now being blocked.