China-bashers, beware — Jon Huntsman’s back, and he’s headlining the season’s newest political documentary. A Forty-Year Engagement follows the former Utah governor from his days as ambassador to Beijing through his short-lived presidential campaign, which Academy Award–winning filmmaker Geralyn Dreyfous describes as a “non-starter.” He’d been hesitant to leave his China post, Dreyfous tells BuzzFeed, but ultimately decided to enter the race after a “tremendous amount of pressure on him from moderate Republicans and business leaders who thought the party had gone too afar.” Yet it wasn’t pushing more moderate immigration or economic policies that personally attracted Huntsman, but rather America’s relationship with China. Unfortunately, his candidacy fizzled, Dreyfous recalls, and “China never became a campaign issue in the way that he wanted it to be.”
The documentary comes just as Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama are upping the heat on the China question, with Obama accusing Romney of dumping his Chinese investments when he decided to go tough, and Romney insisting he’ll label China a currency manipulator his first day in office — a move Huntsman says might spark a trade war. “China will devalue its currency,” he told Fox News’s Greta Van Susteren back in September 2011. “It has for the last year to two years, and it will continue to.”
“China was being used as the scapegoat,” Dreyfous further explains. “Other Republican candidates would talk about being tougher on China, and Jon was trying over and over again to say that it was more complicated than that.” But, in politics, simple and belligerent beats complicated and realistic every time.