MELISSA BLOCK, host:
World powers are also looking to China to put pressure on Iran leading up to the six-party talks this week. That's one of many issues on the plate of the new United States ambassador to China, Jon Huntsman. I spoke with him earlier today about the U.S.-China relationship, and I asked him if he expects China to veto any U.S.-led efforts at the U.N. to impose new sanctions on Iran.
Mr. JON HUNTSMAN (U.S. Ambassador, China): Well, I think we'll have to let this one play out for a few more days and see what Iran comes back with. Clearly, we're working very closely with China, and the next few days and weeks, I think, are going to be very, very important in terms of putting this relationship and this particular aspect of the relationship to the test. But we'll have to wait and see on that.
BLOCK: China does, of course, have huge economic interests in Iran, especially in oil and gas reserves. China's now supplying refined gasoline to Iran. Given those economic ties, what's your message to the Chinese on Iran, and what leverage do you think the U.S. can have?
Mr. HUNTSMAN: Well, I think it's multilateral leverage as much as anything else. And it's China waking up to the reality that they are a responsible stakeholder on the international stage, which means that their behavior today as it relates to Iran — or as it relates to other regional security issues or trade — is maybe seen a little bit differently. And maybe there is a heightened level of expectation. And with it comes a heightened sense of responsibility and stepping up and maybe doing some things on, for example, the export-control side that might be a little different than how they would have handled it in years past.
BLOCK: You know, Ambassador Huntsman, you've been describing advances overall in how China positions itself in the world. But at the same time, we've seen the Chinese government really retrenching, cracking down broadly on dissidents, on human-rights activists, even the lawyers who defend them. What is the United States doing to pressure the Chinese government on this? What do you think works in trying to confront that, and what's counterproductive?
Mr. HUNTSMAN: I think regularizing our human-rights dialogue - in other words, making it a systemic part of our overall bilateral dialogue is a very important thing to be doing. And I suspect this fall — and remember, the president will be visiting at the middle of November — we're going to see the resumption of the human-rights dialogue, which has largely been dormant for the last seven or eight years. That will do exactly that — begin to regularize the discussion with respect to human rights and religious freedoms.
BLOCK: How do you reconcile that message that you're talking about, though, with what Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said earlier this year when she visited China? She said, our pressing on these issues - meaning human-rights issues -can't interfere with the global with the global economic crisis, the global climate change crisis and the security crisis. You know, a lot of human-rights watchers heard that and thought it translated to the United States giving short shrift to human rights in favor of these important economic ties with China.
Mr. HUNTSMAN: We had a relationship in years gone by that dealt primarily with the range of bilateral issues, issues that we have to work through, including human rights. But we've also got several very important global issues. They include energy and climate change, regional security and the global economy. And the relationship today is, I think, more and more defined by now two countries coming together and problem-solving around many of these global issues. It's where our relationship increasingly is going, but at the same time, we've got bilateral issues. Trade and human rights will, of course, be a very, very important part of our dialogue ongoing.
BLOCK: Does it seem to you that the trend there, on these human rights issues, is in the wrong direction right now?
Mr. HUNTSMAN: Listen, the fact that you have such a proliferation in terms of people's ability to communicate — the Internet traffic, for example, bloggers, people having conversations they've never had before, access to outside information — this is all tied in to a very important, underlying change that is playing out here, inexorably tied to individual freedoms and liberties. And human rights will always be a part of that debate.
BLOCK: But it's many of these same people who've been trying to get information out who have been locked up, who are now in jail.
Mr. HUNTSMAN: Well, these cases are very, very unfortunate. And we raise them and we work on them. But the underlying theme here is that this communication revolution is very real, and it is moving forward in ways that give people access to the outside like never before.
BLOCK: Ambassador Huntsman, thank you very much.
Mr. HUNTSMAN: Thank you so much for the time.
BLOCK: That's Jon Huntsman, the U.S. ambassador to China.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.