Former 2012 U.S. presidential candidate Jon Huntsman told a packed University of Virginia Chapel Monday evening the most fascinating dynamic in the world today is playing out in northeast Asia.
Huntsman, a guest of U.Va.’s East Asia Society, listed the leaders of Japan, China, North Korea and South Korea, all of whom hail from families that at one time or another were in a position of power in their respective countries.
Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, China’s President Xi Jinping, Korean leader Kim Jong-un and South Korean President Park Geun-hye are all “legacies,” said Huntsman, who noted northeast Asia will soon account for 20 percent of the world’s gross domestic product.
Addressing a crowd of more than 300, Huntsman said northeast Asia is a “bustling, dynamic” region. But he said the history of the region is also “fraught with drama, hostility, animosity, history, wars … so the drama is heightened like never before and it is going to be very interesting to see how things play out.”
The former U.S. ambassador to Singapore (1992-93) and China (2009-11), as well as the governor of Utah in 2004 and 2009, said the United States has an important role to play. “We need to be seen as an honest broker, which is the indispensable role of the United States, whether we like it or not.”
Event moderator Harry Harding, dean of the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, asked Huntsman to share his predictions for U.S.-China relations in the next 10 to 20 years.
Turning to the mostly student audience, Huntsman said, “For your generation, there will be no more important a relationship than the U.S.-China relationship. Now the journey that will take place will in large part be driven by your generation. The big challenge will be … one largely of perception; of a rising power – China – that is bumping up against the established world order.
“The United States will likely be overtaken by China in real GDP terms in maybe 10 years, 15 years,” he added.
Huntsman said that is not important because the United States has “a per capita number that is never going to be challenged. We have a quality of life, we have an innovative spirit, we have a rule of law, we have a constitution, we have a volunteer military, we have the finest universities in the world.” These attributes, he said, often go unappreciated as being “totally unique for any country of the world.”
Huntsman cautioned future political classes against pandering to groups who may panic as China’s gross domestic product surpasses that of the United States. “It’s easy to pander, it’s easy to just declare war … so I’m going to call on your generation, whether you like it or not,” to think thoughtfully and critically about what he termed “the most complicated relationship of the 21st century.”
He said the U.S. must “recognize China as what it is, and deal with China as what it is, instead of what we would like to see it be.”