Jon Huntsman Part 3: China’s Rocky Road on Foreign Policy

08/30/2012 8:30 am EST

Focus: GLOBAL's interview with former US Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman continues as he discusses some of the tensions that have arisen between China and the US, as well as its neighbors in the Asia-Pacific region. Some of China's Asian neighbors are getting more worried as China flexes its muscles: Japan, Vietnam, and the Philippines all have gotten embroiled in territorial disputes with China. Do the Chinese leaders understand how sensitive its neighbors are to its rising power, and how do you think they'll react?

Jon Huntsman: I think they've been tone-deaf so far, but I do believe they're recognizing that their overtures two to three years ago in the ASEAN region-the South China Sea disputes-have backfired on them, and have sent many members of ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations-editor) right into the arms of the United States.

They were overly aggressive. Their deployment programs were a bit hostile militarily. And now what you see in the region, particularly in Southeast Asia, is exerted diplomacy, trying to win over friends once again, engaging more and more in good old-fashioned diplomacy, and sprinkling aid money in the likes of Laos and Cambodia.

So, I do believe that their earlier policy did backfire on them. There is no easy answer here. Everybody knows that in the region. So what will happen going forward-and it will likely not be resolved in our lifetime-is that there will be some kind of code of contact drafted that allows people to deal rationally with the natural resource claims, but most importantly to deal at the negotiating table to prevent hostilities from breaking out. In response to some of these tensions, the US recently has announced it will shift its strategic military focus to Asia, and has forged tighter alliances with countries in the region, including a new base in Australia. Should China worry that this is an effort to contain China militarily?

Jon Huntsman: China oftentimes sees the worst in America's overtures to the region. But the fact of the matter is, we've had a strong set of alliances and relationships in the region for over 100 years. Most of them strengthened in the postwar period, but we've been very active in the Pacific for over 100 years.

So we talk about the pivot to Asia as if it were a new phenomenon, and having lived in Asia four times-and having served in Singapore, when we actually moved a significant portion of our troops [from the Philippines] to different parts of the Asia-Pacific region, that also could have been described as a "plus up" in the region. But the fact of the matter is that we've been engaged in the Asia-Pacific region from a security and a military standpoint through a network of alliances and partnerships for a very, very long time.

That isn't to say that China isn't going to read the worst into our policy overtures--they typically do. That continues to be a significant bone of contention between the United States and China in many of our regional deliberations. Finally, Mitt Romney, whose presidential candidacy you support, has pledged to label China a currency manipulator on his first day in office. Do you think that will happen if Gov. Romney is elected president?

Jon Huntsman: You can speak the words, but it's almost impossible to fulfill in terms of policy execution.

I think it is bad policy. I think that by the time he gets there-if in fact he is elected president-he will likely see that the US-China relationship is balanced on several fronts. And in order to maintain that balance, there has to be...a sensible approach to bilateral policies both on the economic and the security side.

So, my guess is that there may be words spoken, but there will be no policy action that follows.

Read Part One and Part Two of our four-part interview with Gov. Huntsman.

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