Huntsman replied that he looks "forward to robust engagement with China on human rights, and if confirmed, I will not be shy in seeking opportunities to raise candidly with China's leaders U.S. concerns about the poor human-rights situation for Tibetans and Uighur Muslims."
The questions for the governor, nominated in mid-May by President Barack Obama to be U.S. ambassador to China, are part of the confirmation process. A vote by the U.S. Senate on his nomination is expected before Congress recesses on Aug. 7.
In raising the question, Sen. Richard Lugar, the committee's ranking member, cited an April 2008 Deseret News article that quoted Huntsman as saying he backed the protests against China's treatment of Tibet that were disrupting the Olympic torch relay for the Summer Olympics in Beijing.
"Of course I do. This is who we are," Huntsman told the newspaper then. "I think we ought to be totally American about it, in terms of our expressions of outrage and concern and speaking up front and openly as we always do as Americans."Huntsman also said then that he himself had protested outside the Chinese embassy in Washington, D.C., against China's deadly crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators in Tiananmen Square in 1989. The governor was running the Asian affairs bureau for the U.S. Commerce Department at the time.
Lugar didn't mention Huntsman's anti-China protest, but did ask if, as ambassador, he would "continue to address issues with the Chinese government related to the mistreatment of Tibetans, and Uighurs and advocates for the rights of those people to speak freely within the People's Republic of China about their grievances?"
Huntsman spokeswoman Lisa Roskelley said the governor was not surprised to see his support of the protests against China raised by the committee. Nor, she said, did he have any regrets about having made his support public.
"The governor has never shied away from being clear about his thoughts and opinions," Roskelley said. "Certainly, this was no exception."
Senators on the committee also questioned Huntsman about human-rights issues and a number of other areas, including controlling climate change through the development of cleaner energy sources.
As he said during his confirmation hearing before the committee last week, Huntsman said in his written responses to the committee members that such development would not only help China reduce greenhouse gas emissions but also benefit U.S. clean-energy firms as well.
The committee is expected to send its recommendation to the Senate next Tuesday now that their written questions have been answered.
Huntsman has said once he is confirmed, he will resign. Lt. Gov. Gary Herbert is planning his inauguration for Aug. 10.