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Senate committee endorses Huntsman

Final OK is expected before Congress adjourns on Friday

Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. is now just one step from final confirmation as U.S. ambassador to China.

The Senate Foreign Affairs Committee endorsed his nomination Tuesday by voice vote and sent it to the full Senate for consideration.

The Senate is expected to give its final confirmation before it adjourns for its summer recess on Friday.

Huntsman would need to resign as governor before being sworn in as ambassador. He will be replaced by Lt. Gov. Gary Herbert, who has tentatively scheduled his inauguration for next Tuesday.

In his confirmation hearing before the committee last month, Huntsman promised to be an ambassador who would push for improved human rights, trade equality and agreements to fight climate change.

For example, Huntsman said he wants to "systemize the way in which we talk about human rights, the way in which we talk about religious freedom."

Later, in answers to written questions, Huntsman also said he looks "forward to robust engagement with China on human rights, and if confirmed, I will not be shy in seeking opportunities to raise candidly with China's leaders U.S. concerns about the poor human rights situation for Tibetans and Uighur Muslims."

Huntsman has already served twice in Asia with the rank of ambassador. He was the ambassador to Singapore during the George H.W. Bush administration, and he was a trade representative dealing largely with Asia during the George W. Bush administration.

Huntsman speaks Mandarin Chinese, learned as a missionary to Taiwan for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Huntsman and his wife, Mary Kaye, also adopted a daughter, Gracie Mei, from China.

President Barack Obama announced his intent to nominate Huntsman in a joint appearance at the White House on May 16, but the actual nomination was not made until July 6 when the formal paperwork was submitted to the Senate.

The nomination was seen as a surprise both because Huntsman had been a campaign chairman for Republican John McCain when he ran against Obama, and because Huntsman himself had started to gain some attention as a possible GOP presidential candidate in 2012.

But Huntsman said at the White House announcement of his nomination that when the president "asks you to step up and serve in a capacity like this, that, to me, is the end of the conversation and the beginning of the obligation to rise to the challenge."

e-mail: lee@desnews.com