17 May 2009

Obama names envoy to China

8:23 am on 17 May 2009

US President Barack Obama has named the Republican governor of Utah to be the next US ambassador to China.

Jon Huntsman Jr., 49, a Mandarin-speaking former US trade official and former ambassador to Singapore takes up the pivotal post in relations between the United States and a major emerging economic power.

Mr Obama used his nomination of Mr Huntsman to send a message to China's communist leadership.

"Improved relations with China will require candor and open discussion about those issues where we don't always agree, such as human rights and democracy and free speech, and will require that each of our nations play by the rules in open and honest competition," Mr Obama said.

Mr Huntsman is the son of billionaire philanthropist Jon Huntsman, and his family founded chemical company Huntsman Corp, which has operations in China, including a factory in Shanghai.

China is among the largest buyers of US government debt, with $US767.9 billion as of March, according to Treasury Department data.

Washington is keen to maintain a strong relationship, particularly now as the Government's stimulus package and financial bailout fund have strained public finances.

If China pulled back on its purchases of US bonds, it could drive up interest rates, making it more expensive for the government to finance its growing debt pile and for consumers and companies to borrow money.