This is the first of regular weekly Cooketop News blog posts (scheduled to appear each Monday).

By reviewing the previous week’s top stories involving — broadly speaking —  China clean energy, the idea is to identify and comment on a particular  emerging trend/issue which points forward and can help illuminate news-in-the-making for the week(s) ahead.

By radio analogy, the commentary is meant to cut through static in the general coverage of whatever’s the issue at hand and present a clear frequency and better ‘signal-processing’ for helping to tune in on an enduring news issue.

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THIS WEEK’S COMMENTARY — HUNTSMAN, REPUBLICANS  & CHINA

Last week was the Iowa caucus and Tuesday of this week the New Hampshire primary.  The related questions which these contests have raised are what have Jon Huntsman’s China connections and qualifications done for his campaign effort and what are the implications for China given the current crop of Republican candidates.

Let’s start with the second question.  Liz Economy from the Council of Foreign Relations has done a better job than anyone at assessing the remaining field of candidates through the lens of their public positions on China.  To borrow liberally from her analysis, here’s what we’re looking at:

Mitt Romney says it’s all about the economy, stupid: Mitt Romney’s China policy is all about trade measures —keeping counterfeits out, protecting intellectual property, levying sanctions against unfair trade practices, pressing China on its currency, etc.  The question for an anti-”Big Government” candidate is who does all this work if not the government.

Ron Paul wants to make love, not war: Ron Paul appears to want to “go along to get along” with China:  stop intrusive surveillance, reconsider the Taiwan Relations Act,  drop the idea of import tariffs in retaliation for Beijing’s currency manipulation, and mute protestations over human rights issues.  As Economy has put it, there’s little doubt that “candidate Paul …would be Beijing’s pick for top dog.”

Jon Huntsman is long on experience but short on traction:  No surprise that the expertise in China policy is with former U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman. Huntsman has all his facts in line. You can agree or disagree with his specific positions — opposing a China currency bill or engaging to promote political change in China—but you have to admit he knows his stuff.

Newt Gingrich jettisons balance to keep ship afloat:  Gingrich’s initial positions in the campaign were balanced and reasonable, calling on the U.S. to do the right thing and take action on the home front in order to be more competitive.  As his electoral options have narrowed though, his positions appear to be veering in a more extreme direction.  Stay tuned for his advertising campaign in South Carolina to see if he starts demonizing China.

With Rick Santorum, the question is  ‘Where’s the beef?’:   Despite having a lengthy book and a Senatorial career in the public record, there’s almost nothing to go on to explain how Santorum would approach China if elected President.  He did make a quote about going  “to war with China” to “make America the most attractive place in the world to do business.”  Huh?.

Rick Perry talks the talk but doesn’t walk the walk:  “Communist China is destined for the ash heap of history because they are not a country of virtues. When you have 35,000 forced abortions a day…, when you have the cyber security that the PLA has been involved with, those are great major issues both morally and security-wise that we’ve got to deal with now.”  His actions?   Courting Huawei, a problematic company, to invest in Texas.

So, on to the related question, what has Jon Huntsman’s Mandarin-speaking ability and Ambassadorial command of the issues meant for his election prospects?  The answer, like a Rorschach, depends entirely on who you talk to.  His proponents invariably cite it as a positive (see NY Times article) and his detractors cite it as a liability (see story from last Thursday below).  Where’s the traction?  Answer: there’s maybe some but not much.

Fault-lines have been exposed in the body politic over these questions.  There’s no question that one of Ron Paul’s supporters went way, way over the line by insinuating Huntsman was questionably ‘American’ because he and his wife keep their adoptive children from China and India exposed to cultural traditions from those two civilizations, but nonetheless ideological conservatives generally seem to view his competence with China as itself  a cause for suspicion.

The first generation of Mandarin competent statesmen drew heavily from the offspring of Christian missionaries who grew up in China, people like the late Ambassador James Lilley.  Huntsman represents a second wave of high-level U.S. government officials who have Mandarin-competence through their two years of  Mormon service abroad.  (Tim Stratford, a former Assistant U.S. Trade Representative for China, is another example of this group of experts).  The third wave will come from younger Americans who, in step with China’s opening to the world, have been able to burrow deeper into language and cultural expertise.  They are making their way up the ladder of the U.S. government.  I can only hope that the American electorate — and the Republican Party — can find a way to value the knowledge they bring to public service.  The top rank of challenges which the U.S. faces will simply not be solved without constructive and effective engagement with China — and that requires people who understand, respect, and can operate in the sphere of Chinese language, culture and values.

(Disclosure: I have worked at various points in my career for Jim Lilley, Jon Huntsman, and Tim Stratford.)

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LAST WEEK’S COOKETOP NEWS

Here’s a listing of  some of the top stories covered in Cooketop News for Week 1 of 2012 (with hyperlinks):

Monday, January 2, 2012

Foxconn enters solar
Chinavasion’s High-capacity  Solar Charger
Protest in China – Ripple or Wave?
Bridge construction as economic development lever
10 Predictions for Cleantech in 2012

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Top 20 Green Building Innovations of 2011
USDOC Sec. Bryson Faces a China Challenge
Cleantech Start-ups to Watch
Is China’s Solar Industry Entering Eclipse?
Public Housing Key as Export Machine Slows

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

‘Culture Campaign’ Dents Programming
Green Cars & Clean Energy: The China Angle
Cleaner Technology in Global Arctic Oil Race
Chinese Philanthropists Join to Protect Nature
China’s IPOs Top World’s Exchanges Despite Slump

Thursday, January 5, 2011

Air Pollution Hazardous for China’s Economic Health
Drought Drying out Poyang Lake in Jiangxi Province
Rustbelt Cities Go Green to Strengthen Economies
China’s Corporate Debt Issuance Soars in 2011
Huntsman’s China Cred No Boost to his Prospects 
Econ Ties to China Key Issue in Taiwan Election 

Friday, January 6, 2011

10 Emerging Sustainable Cities to Watch
Solar Turbine Makers Turn to India & China
U.S. Manufacturers of Steel Wind Towers Cite China
LDK Solar Snags $64mm from PRC  for U.S. Projects
China Announces Plan to Levy Carbon Tax by 2015 

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That’s it for this week.  I hope you find this of some value to your own pursuits.  Give me a holler — either by leaving a comment below or by email — to let me know what you think, positive or negative.  For anyone with a driving passion to get each day’s edition of Cooketop News (minus the summary listing and commentary that I provide in this weekly post), you can subscribe by going to the Cooketop News site at http://paper.li/mterrycooke/1324752421 and clicking on the upper-right Subscribe button.  There is also an Archive feature on the site (upper-center) which allows you to look up any previous edition.

Oh, before signing off, I owe you an answer to the question in the title.  Jon Huntsman’s name in Chinese? 洪博培.  (And by the way, if you try searching for the name on China’s Twitter clone — Weibo — when you’re in China, you’ll likely find the name has been blocked).