Governor Jon Huntsman on the campaign trail in New Hampshire talking North Korea
HH: Pleased to welcome back to the program former governor of Utah, former ambassador to the People’s Republic of China, and now presidential candidate, Jon Huntsman. His website, www.jon2012.com. Governor, Merry Christmas to you.
JH: Hugh, Merry Christmas to you, and greetings from New Hampshire.
HH: Have you got your Christmas shopping done since you’re out there campaigning?
JH: No, but I’ve got a New Hampshire accent after all the time spent here. I’ve got a few lobster rolls in my pocket. But Christmas shopping? I haven’t even gotten around to it. Are you kidding?
HH: That’s going to make the wife and the kids a little unhappy, isn’t it?
JH: You know, it’s one of these deals where I’ve told them all if we can all get around the dinner table together on Christmas Day, and just thank the good Lord that we’re together for the first time in the entire year, look each other in the eyeballs, and update each other on what we’re all doing, that all by itself will be the greatest gift we could give and receive.
HH: Well, I hope you get that. I will give you one tip. Next hour, I’m talking with Tony Horowitz, who wrote Midnight Rising, about John Brown and the Civil War. It’s an amazing book, Governor. I recommend it to you. Hey, I want to start by asking you about the demise of Kim Jong Il. As our ambassador to China, you obviously had to deal with the North Korean situation continually. What are your thoughts on the surprise of his passing, and on Kim Jong Un, who is now become the four star general at the age of 27, supreme leader of the hermit kingdom?
JH: Yeah, we watched North Korea extensively out of Beijing, as they do out of Embassy Tokyo. The death watch has been on for probably two years. And getting information out of North Korea, as everybody knows by now, is extremely difficult. People were putting a time horizon on his life, this was, you know, two years ago, of maybe two to three years based upon what they assessed he had. So he’s gone from the scene. You’ve got Kim Jong Un, you know, late 20s, who now doesn’t have the dear leader standing next to him. He’s going to have to fight some pretty serious skirmishes with the central military commission in winning over some support. So all of this was pre-cooked, because the transition really started over a year ago. Now, the question will be without the dear leader around, does it actually take effect? So he’ll have to continue working on the central military commission, he’ll have to work on the party apparatchiks, the communist party leaders, and then he’s going to have to figure out how to deal with some family skirmishes within the Kim family, notably one of Kim Jong Il’s brothers-in-law, who is a very senior general within the people’s army. So this is going to play out for a while, and this is where the dangerous part lies, because you’ve got a completely erratic, suicidal country in the best of conditions that is completely going overboard now with this transition to new leadership. And who knows what Kim Jong Un might be capable of doing? Certainly, short range ballistic missiles into the Yellow Sea, certainly provocations and saber rattling that we probably won’t even be able to predict or forecast. So everyone on the peninsula will be on high alert, and I think this will likely play out, Hugh, right up until April of next year. Why do I say April? I say April because April next year is Kim Il Sung’s 100th anniversary. And even during normal times, when they celebrate an anniversary for the great leader, the founder of the country, you blow off a weapon here, you shoot a missile there, you threaten South Korea. So I suspect this is going to be fairly uncertain until April of next year. And then we’re probably going to know just how bad this guy’s going to be.
HH: Do you believe, Governor Huntsman, that the President has responded appropriately in the past when North Korea, for example, shelled the South Korean island, or its other many serial provocations that have resulted in loss of life?
JH: You know, the most important thing to do, and I think administrations past, Republican and Democrat, have done their very best in terms of making sure there’s no blue sky between South Korea and the United States. That is the one thing that must be done. But I don’t know that we’ve done an adequate job reminding the world what it means to be a friend and ally of the United States, whether that’s South Korea, Japan or Israel. And I think we have a huge need today like never before to broadcast to the world what it means to be a friend and ally of the United States of America. That could have meant buttoning up the free trade agreement with South Korea two or three years ago when people really thought that meant something. That could mean shoring up closer trade and economic links with some of the countries in the region. That shows the real intent of the United States in the Asia-Pacific region, and all of it strengthens our standing among the people who are watching.
HH: Is it a uniquely perilous time with North Korea, Governor Huntsman?
JH: It’s a uniquely perilous time. I see one of two scenarios playing out, neither of which is good. The one scenario is that Kim Jong Un is able to solidify his power base, he’s able to take over and lead, which is an awful outcome. This is just status quo. It’s an awful outcome, because you’ve got 25 [million] people suffering under the most horrific dictatorship in the entire world today, you know, 8 million of whom practically starve to death during the winter months. A worse scenario would be power struggles within the hermit kingdom causing the country to unravel and ultimately fail as a nation. And then you’ve got a flow of refugees probably numbering in the millions across the Yalu River to the north into Manchuria, which would be a catastrophic scenario for the Chinese. And you’ve got loose nukes. You know, nobody knows how many they’ve got, but you know, probably somewhere around half a dozen unsophisticated weapons. Nobody knows where they are or what the command and control features are. So you know, then you’ve got nukes that are somewhere with the prospect of proliferating, which could be a very, very bad storyline coming out of a failed nation-state. Not to mention the third part of it, Hugh, which is the economic component, and that is when you’ve got the heart of Northeast Asia, and Northeast Asia is about 20% of the world’s GDP when you look at Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, much of China and a little bit of Russia, it’s a major export market for goods. It’s a major entrepot for trade. And I’d say two-thirds of our nation’s trade flows right across the Pacific Ocean through that corridor. So when you have a major regional disruption like a suicidal country that is doing things that are completely unexpected, it impedes the flow of commerce, and it shuts things down. And that means the exporters from the United States who want to get their products to market, and earning a little bit to make their small business viable, they’re impacted by that, which means families and small businesses and communities here in the United States are impacted by that disruption. And I’d like to think there’s a chain reaction, a chain in fact that goes all the way from North Korea, and the craziness that plays out there, right to the homes and the communities here in the United States.
HH: We’ve got 30 seconds to the break, Governor. I’d love to have you stay over if you can. I don’t know what your schedule is, I understand if you can’t. But very quickly, do we need a second carrier based out of Japan at this particular time?
JH: We need a second carrier out of Japan. Having lived in Asia four times, there is nothing that shows the might, the majesty, the resolve of the United States like an aircraft carrier battle group. Whenever a battle group gets toward the Yellow Sea, or around the Korean Peninsula, everybody takes note. No question about that.
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HH: Governor, a couple of quick political questions. You’ve been on a lot of debate stages with Ron Paul and Michele Bachmann. This week, Ron Paul said Michele Bachmann hates Muslims. What do you think of that comment?
JH: I think it’s overboard. You know, I think to make judgments about people based upon so little input, or just inferences on the campaign trail, I think is really unfair and unrepresentative of where I’m sure Michele is. And it’s a sort of, you know, it debases the whole political debate when we want to be talking about we build this economy back up again, how we deliver jobs to people who don’t have enough in the way of opportunity today. It’s the part of politics I can’t stand.
HH: Another controversy on the trail is former Speaker Gingrich’s rather robust assault on the federal judiciary. Your reaction to that? You had to name judges. What do you think of this?
JH: I had to name judges, people took note of them, I was responsible for them. If I named judges that people didn’t like, or that were incompetent, one, if they broke ethical rules, there was an impeachment process. Second of all, if any of them made fools of themselves, made really bad decisions, they would hold that against me as governor. So we have a process in place. The checks and balances that are founders envisioned, that plays out, and that I think creates a system that does work for us, so every bad decision made in the 9th District has to hit a pretty conservative Supreme Court. And the checks and balances, I think, work for us.
HH: And so you’re not in favor of Speaker Gingrich’s increased sort of supervision of the federal judiciary?
JH: No, I’m not. I wouldn’t be in favor of that.
HH: And then last question, it seems you may have a little traction in New Hampshire. How’s it feel on the ground there?
JH: It feels great on the ground. This campaign is moving, Hugh. We just overtake Ron Paul for third place in this state. We’ve come from zero. The margin of error candidate, now third place, good endorsements from newspapers here, the town hall meetings…we’re just about to pull up here in Stratham, New Hampshire, are packed with people, increasing with each event we’re doing. And we’ve dong, this’ll be event number 128. No one is working this state as aggressively as we are, and I do believe that people care about that in this state. It’s handshake by handshake, town hall meeting by town hall meeting. They want to size you up. They want to see what’s in your heart and soul, what’s in your head. They make a judgment about that, and they’ll render that judgment on January 10th. And Hugh, I think we’re in a great position. People love an underdog in this state.
HH: 30 seconds, Governor. They say he’s not conservative enough. How do you respond?
JH: Take a look at my record, for Heaven’s sake. Pro-life, always have been, pro-2nd Amendment, always have been, the largest tax cut in the history of my state. I delivered a flat tax. Health care reform without a mandate, I support the Ryan plan, I signed the second voucher bill in this entire country. Just look at the record, and you’ll see that it is a record of a consistent conservative.
HH: Governor Jon Huntsman, Merry Christmas to you, thanks for joining us. We’ll talk to you in the new year, if not before.
End of interview.