Well this is interesting. Seems Obama hasn't stopped thinking a few step ahead... Everyone's playing checkers while he's splaying chess.
From the HuffintonPost:
WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama reached across the political divide Saturday and named Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, a potential GOP White House contender in 2012 and top John McCain supporter, to the sensitive diplomatic post of U.S. ambassador to China.
Fluent in Mandarin Chinese from his days as a Mormon missionary in Taiwan, the 49-year-old Huntsman is a popular two-term governor who served in both Bush administrations and was national co-chairman of Arizona Sen. McCain's campaign against Obama last year. Huntsman has made a name for himself advocating a moderate agenda in one of the nation's most conservative states.
With Huntsman at his side, Obama said in brief remarks in the White House Diplomatic Reception Room that he made the appointment "mindful of its extraordinary significance. Given the breadth of issues at stake in our relationship with China, this ambassadorship is as important as any in the world because the United States will best be able to deal effectively with global challenges in the 21st century by working in concert with China."read more...
WaPo had more:
UPDATE: Daily Kos's Dana Houle had this to say:
White House officials described Huntsman as having respect for China's tradition and called him an "unstinting advoate" for America's interestin Asia. They praised his record of service and said he will be able to be frank with the Chinese when the two countries disagree.
The news almost certainly forecloses the possibility that Huntsman will be a candidate for national office in 2012.
Huntsman, who has deep experience in the far east, was clearly positioning himself for a national bid -- casting himself as a common sense conservative on issues like the environment and health care.[snip]
"Most Americans are fed up with the idea that partisanship has stood in the way of progress," Huntsman said in an interview late last year.
David Plouffe, who managed Obama's presidential campaign, told U.S. News & World Report this month that Huntsman was "the one person in that party who might be a potential presidential candidate."
Huntsman has ticked off conservatives by being one of those rare Republicans who's told the Republican base they can't have everything they want and still be electorally viable, and dismissed the Republicans' Congressional leadership as inconsequential.
Furthermore, this isn't simply a do-over attempt at a Judd Gregg-like political play. Gregg arguably was unqualified to be head of Commerce on merit, and he had even tried to eliminate the department. It was because he approached the administration, and because he would have been a token Republican and thus an example of supposed bipartisanship, that he was ever considered for the post. Huntsman, on the other hand, did his Mormon mission on Taiwan, is fluent in Mandarin, and served as ambassador to Singapore to the first president Bush and as deputy US trade representative for Dubya. He appears to have the skills and experience to be a good ambassador.
TPM has more as well: Obama Names GOP Gov. Huntsman For China Ambassador