Posted by: Bruce Einhorn on November 20, 2009
A day after President Obama left Asia after an 8-day visit, Jon Huntsman, the American ambassador in Beijing, tried to counter the spin in the media that his boss’s China visit didn’t go so well. Speaking at a BusinessWeek conference on Friday morning, the former GOP governor of Utah pointed to agreements between the two countries to promote cooperation on the global economy, climate change and clean energy, and regional security. “Much was accomplished,” said Huntsman, who also reminded his listeners that he had been national co-chair of the McCain campaign last year and so was representative of the “bipartisan approach to the U.S.-China relationship.”
Huntsman spoke mostly in English but he is fluent in Mandarin and spent a few minutes speaking in Chinese. It was during the Chinese portion of his speech that Huntsman called Sino-U.S. ties “the world’s most important relationship.” That recalls the famous description that Mike Mansfield, the U.S. ambassador in Tokyo during the 1980s, gave to Japan’s relations with the U.S. Back then, Mansfield liked to say “the U.S.-Japan relationship is the “most important bilateral relationship in the world, bar none.” Now that honor goes to Japan’s giant neighbor. And oddly enough, Mansfield himself, the ultimate booster of Japan-U.S. ties, predicted this would happen. Consider this interview he gave to Japan’s Nikkei newspaper ten years ago. Talking about his “bar none” description of ties between Tokyo and Washington, he said “I don’t know how long it’s going to last, though, because you have China on the horizon….China will become more powerful in the decades to come. So far, China has held its head above water better than Japan has and, in doing so, China has become something of a stabilizing factor in East Asia and in the rest of the world….China could be in a position to threaten Japan’s supremacy in Asia. That is the major reason for me to emphasize that it is essential for Japan to rebuild its economy quickly.”
Japan didn’t change quickly, though. China did. And now it’s the U.S. ambassador in Beijing, not Tokyo, who gets to crow about the importance of his job.