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SALT LAKE CITY -- A video that captured images of former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman at a political protest in China has created a stir. It shows the governor in a crowded area of Beijing during a brief but widely-publicized protest against the Chinese government.
The embassy says Ambassador Huntsman was simply on an excursion with his family. But wildly different interpretations are being batted around the internet. Depending on which interpretation you believe, Ambassador Huntsman is either stirring up a revolution, on a family outing, running for president, a bumbler in China, or all of the above.
The discussion is fueled by a video with an alarmist interpretation that some have described as pro-Chinese nationalist propaganda. It begins with dramatic military and patriotic music, and shows scenes of Huntsman in the busy Wangfujing district of Beijing in front of a McDonald's restaurant. The scene was apparently shot during a protest against the government. The protest -- nicknamed The Jasmine Revolution -- drew worldwide interest a few days ago and then quickly fizzled.
In the short video, a man in the crowd recognizes Huntsman, who has an American flag patch on his jacket. In Mandarin, the man says, "Hey, Mr. Ambassador, what are you doing here?" Huntsman replies in Mandarin, "I'm just here to look around."
"You want to see China in chaos?" the man asks. Huntsman's reply has been variously interpreted as "No," "Naaah", "Won't" or "I don't expect to see that."
The video claims he walked away with his bodyguards. But his wife, Mary Kay Huntsman and other family members are easily visible, walking with him through the crowd.
The incident has been explosively re-interpreted by extreme Chinese nationalist groups. One website claims Huntsman was monitoring a revolution stirred up by the US, coordinating with the White House and encouraging protesters to press for regime change.
The video exclaims, "We don't want to be another Iraq! We don't want to be another Tunisia. Nor another Egypt."
A Chinese website says "Chinese conspiracy theorists are now busy putting forth the idea that Jon Huntsman, and the United States, are the real masterminds behind the Jasmine Revolution."
There have been reports that some websites and social networks have had electronic blocks put in to prevent people from searching for Huntsman's name.
Time reports Huntsman's name became taboo on two of the most popular Chinese Twitter-type websites.
In spite of all the heavy breathing about Huntsman's appearance at the rally, the U.S. embassy in Beijing downplayed the incident. An embassy spokesman told the Wall Street Journal, "The Huntsmans were on a family outing and happened to pass by Wangfujing. They realized what was going on and immediately left."
Huntsman does have a history of embracing protest against the Chinese government. Three years ago, when he was still Utah's governor, Huntsman told the Deseret News he supported protests against China's treatment of Tibet that were disrupting the Olympic torch relay for the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing.
In that same 2008 interview, he revealed that in 1989, he protested outside the Chinese embassy in Washington, D.C. The issue then was China's brutal 1989 crackdown on pro- democracy demonstrators in Tiananmen Square. Huntsman protested even though he ran the Asian affairs bureau for the U.S. Commerce Department at the time.
Some bloggers have said it's hard to believe that a Mandarin-speaking U.S. Ambassador to China would have just accidentally happened upon the protest. It had been promoted in advance through the Internet and had been widely discussed in Beijing ahead of time.
Others bloggers have claimed, perhaps with tongue in cheek, that Huntsman's appearance with an American flag patch on his jacket, might have been intended to make a dramatic image for a future campaign video. Huntsman is considered a possible contender for the presidency in 2012 or 2016.