Jon Huntsman Jr. told a VIP crowd of journalists, diplomats, and CEOs Tuesday afternoon that he plans to announce his presidential candidacy in one week, joking that "since we're in selected company and there aren't many people listening in" he could safely declare his intentions.
Officially, the occasion was a Thomson Reuters luncheon featuring a discussion about the rising power of China between Huntsman—who served as U.S. ambassador to the county—and Henry Kissinger. (The event was moderated by Sir Harold Evans, newly appointed Reuters editor-at-large who is married to Newsweek/Daily Beast editor-in-chief Tina Brown.) During a Q&A session following the planned discussion, Huntsman was asked how his experience in China would set him apart from other candidates in the Republican field.
Huntsman responded by inverting the question, and describing how his presidency would affect future ambassadors' experiences in China. Huntsman said America's position with China won't improve until the United States employs better economic policies.
"The single best improvement we could make [to our relationship with China] would happen right here at home," Huntsman said. "Which is getting our own house in order. We sit diminished and discounted at the negotiating table, and everybody knows it."
But while the conversation on stage revolved around cyber security, diplomatic tensions, and abortion policies in China, those in attendance were buzzing about Huntsman's presidential ambitions.
William Weld, the former Republican governor of Massachusetts, was present at the luncheon—30 stories above Times Square in Manhattan—and made little effort to hide his fascination with Huntsman's long-shot bid for the presidency.
"I'm a Romney guy as you know," Weld said. "But I'm delighted to see Huntsman in and I told him so. The only thing is Romney and Huntsman can't be on the same ticket because they're both Mormons. Romney's running very strong right now, but God, you never know. So that could be the void [Huntsman] fills."
Huntsman also told the crowd that his son enlisted in the Navy on Tuesday, and stressed the important role military strategy will play in U.S./China relations.