Huntsman sat down with The Chronicle’s Linda Yu for a one-on-one interview before his presentation, discussing China and foreign policy and demonstrating his Chinese ability.
The Chronicle: Do you have any insights into Asia from your time as Ambassador to China and Singapore that you think the average American isn’t aware of?
Jon Huntsman: We’re in a period of insecurity, and [there are] people who read the rise of China as being something that is calculated and that part of a homogenized attempt to keep America down. In fact, their growth is the extension of their population of 1.3 billion people and a large landmass with lots of natural resources and trade and markets have opened over the last 30 years, and it has resulted in enormous growth—but I think that is to be expected.
But now they are entering into a period of uncertainty. I would call it a period of insecurity of where the party goes, about where the economy goes, about their regional relationships and about their relationship with the United States. They don’t have the answers. I don’t think they have a grand design of where this all goes, It is more of a tactical effort to keep the economy growing year in and year out, caring for the needs of a very large population—most of whom are very poor.
Our perceptions are a bit off when it comes to understanding and interpreting China in ways that would allow us to have a fact-based dispassionate discussion as opposed to the hysteria that is often confused into the political discourse. And because of the enormous implications for the United States for the rest of the 21st century, it really deserved a thorough vetting.
TC: You can speak Chinese fluently. Do you have any advice or thoughts for Duke students pursuing the language?
JH: You can’t understand China’s culture and history without seeing it through the prism of language. Language is as central to life as culture, and it is an extension of 5,000 years of history. To be able to interpret events that are playing out or to be able to fully understand their history and why they made certain decisions, knowledge of Chinese is critical.
By studying Mandarin, you’re actually opening a window through which you can better interpret one of the most important relationships of the 21st century.
TC: During the Republican presidential debates, you spoke Chinese but many Republicans reacted negatively to it. How do you think the GOP will be able to reconcile this attitude with attracting more minority voters to their base?
JH: It’s a problem within the Republican Party right now and it will need to be addressed through taking on issues such as immigration realistically and broadening the base that they appeal to. A lot of the insecurity right now is highly partisan and governed by an economy that is broken and a fear that we’re not moving ahead in the world and others are moving forward.