WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama on Wednesday made light of speculation that his ambassador to China, former Utah GOP Gov. Jon Huntsman, could run against him in 2012.
"I'm sure that him having worked so well with me will be a great asset in any Republican primary," Obama joked at a news conference with China's president, Hu Jintao.
Huntsman, a moderate Republican, had been considered a White House contender before Obama selected him in May 2009 as his envoy to Beijing.
Political commentators called Huntsman's appointment a smart political move by Obama to sideline a potentially strong challenger.
Huntsman, who was national co-chairman of Arizona Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign in 2008, hasn't said whether he plans to leave China to run for president, raising speculation that he's at least contemplating it.
He told Newsweek recently that "we may have one final run left in our bones" and declined to comment when asked whether he would rule out a run in 2012.
On Wednesday, as he arrived for Hu's state dinner at the White House, Huntsman was asked whether he was considering a presidential run. Huntsman kept walking but said: "We're loyal to our country and our president."
At the news conference, Obama praised Huntsman's tenure as ambassador.
"The fact that he comes from a different party I think is a strength, not a weakness, because it indicates the degree to which both he and I believe that partisanship ends at the water's edge, and that we work together to advocate on behalf of our country," Obama said.
As Obama spoke, Huntsman looked on stoically from his front-row seat in the White House East Room.
Huntsman's career began as a staff assistant in the Reagan administration. He was ambassador to Singapore under President George H.W. Bush and as a deputy U.S. trade representative and U.S. trade ambassador under President George W. Bush.
Before becoming governor in 2005, Huntsman made millions serving as chairman and CEO of his family's chemical company.