Searching For Jon Huntsman

A very strange story has come out of China regarding US Ambassador (and possible Republican candidate for President in 2012) Jon Huntsman.  It seems that Jon Huntsman’s name has been “scrubbed” from certain Chinese search engines and microblogging sites. Some believe that the reason was that Huntsman had allegedly being spotted at or nearby a “Jasmine Revolution” protest.

BEIJING (AP) – China widened its Internet policing after online calls for protests like those that swept the Middle East, with social networking site LinkedIn and searches for the U.S. ambassador’s name both blocked on Friday.

Searches for Ambassador Jon Huntsman’s name in Chinese on popular microblogging site Sina Weibo were met with a message saying results were not available due to unspecified “laws, regulations and policies.”

A video circulating online shows Huntsman, who has been mentioned as a potential Republican presidential candidate, scanning the crowd at the site of a tiny protest in Beijing last weekend. An unidentified Chinese man asked Huntsman what he was doing there and whether he wanted to see chaos in China. Huntsman walked away from the scene after that comment.

The U.S. Embassy was aware that Huntsman’s name was being “restricted on some searches” on China’s domestic Internet, spokesman Richard Buangan said, but declined further comment on the issue.

He said the ambassador and some family members were passing through the bustling Wangfujing shopping street on Sunday and it was a coincidence that they were there at the same time as the planned protest.

This could be a step China is taking to ensure that there is no appearance of U.S. approval of the protests.  While Huntsman’s explanation may or may not have satisfied the Chinese government, there could be other reasons behind their actions.  It could also be a rebuke to the State Department over some criticisms made by Huntsman and  (by extension) Secretary of State Hillary Clinton over censorship of social networking and microblogging sites in China just last week.

Amid turmoil in the Middle East, the U.S. intensified efforts to pierce government barriers to social networking in China and Iran.

A day after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s pledge to promote Internet freedom, efforts by U.S. diplomats to generate debate on the issue on Twitter-like microblogs in China—which has the world’s most Internet users—ran up against the country’s sophisticated censorship system.

The virtual tussle on Wednesday highlighted the growing importance of such microblogs in China as a new frontier for lively discussion and information sharing that is so fast-paced that censors often have difficulty keeping up. It also pointed out the growing efforts of the U.S. Embassy in Beijing in trying to interact with Chinese citizens.

Wednesday’s discussions about Internet freedom were initiated by U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman and others in the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, tied to Mrs. Clinton’s speech on Internet freedom Tuesday.

Again, I am not certain what the reasoning behind these actions might have been.  It certainly is strange, though.    Hopefully more news comes out on this in the near future.

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