FP: What's your understanding of what Chinese officials think about all this rhetoric and what's behind it? Do they see this as one of the downsides of democracy, or of Americans playing into the fears of American decline?
JH: I think it's happened for so long that they've grown to expect it during the election season. I think it affected them more in the earlier years, but now they've grown accustomed to the political cycle, just as we've grown accustomed to the leadership cycles in China, where they do the same thing to us. We just have a bigger megaphone. And they tend to be a little more sensitive, because face still matters a whole lot in terms of human interaction.
FP: So, you don't think the responses we've seen in Chinese state media outlets like People's Daily and Xinhua don't really mean anything; it's just low-level bluster?
JH: Oh, it always means something, but you have to put it in perspective. I was supposed to be there a month ago giving a speech, but they canceled my visa. Why? Because I talk too much about human rights and American values, and they know that. And at a time of leadership realignment, the biggest deal in 10 years for them, they didn't want the former U.S. ambassador saying stuff that might create a narrative that they would have to fight. I understand that. But when the transition is done, the crazy American ambassador will be let back in, and I can say whatever I want. As they used to tell me when I was over there was "Women zhongguo ye you zhengzhi"---"We have politics too in China."
FP: So they ended up letting you back in this time?
JH: They did, because I wasn't over there for a speech; I was there for a board meeting.
FP: How did they communicate that to you, that they had canceled your visa? It was just not approved?
JH: Well, the group that was bringing me in to speak, the organizers -- they had a little pressure put on them, shall we say.
JH: Oh, I think it was pretty overt pressure.
FP: Do you think your expertise on China and your Mandarin-speaking hurt your campaign? Do you think your message was too -- I don't want to use the word "intelligent," but do you think your ability to speak on issues like China at that level was not the way to communicate?
JH: Well, to be sure, I was an imperfect messenger, so I only have myself to blame. But here's the context. You're coming out of the most compartmented, sensitive, confined relationship probably in the U.S. government, where a lot of your work is being done behind closed doors. A lot of it is stuff that no one will ever read about, and then you jump on to what is probably the most public stage in the world: that of running for the president of the United States. So the mental gymnastics that go from one job to the other -- it takes a little bit of settling in.
Update: Huntsman's office, after the interview was published, provided this clarification:
"The governor's invitation to speak, not his visa, was rescinded for political reasons. The governor misspoke in the interview, citing a canceled visa when he meant to say cancelled invitation."