When former 2012 presidential contender Jon Huntsman Jr. spoke Friday to members of the Hilton Head World Affairs Council, the topic of Tuesday's government shutdown couldn't be ignored.
But what Huntsman, the former governor of Utah, had to say about it brought a new -- and, he says, overlooked -- perspective.
"I have not heard one conversation at all about the international reverberations that are playing out as a result of the shutdown," he said.
The politician, businessman and diplomat kicked off the council's 2013-14 speaker series before a crowd of nearly 300 at First Presbyterian Church on Hilton Head Island. The group's theme this year is "thinking globally."
Huntsman stressed the importance of the Asian region and the role the United States must play in shaping its growth and evolution. Despite the U.S. focus in the Middle East over the past decade, he said, the Asian Pacific region is the true "hot spot."
Or at least it should be, with its economic, educational and military growth, he said.
President Barack Obama's cancellation Thursday of a trip to summits in Asia because of the shutdown could cost the country greatly, Huntsman said.
When students read history books at the end of the century, "I think one of the top three things we read about will be the rise of China and what the United States did in response," he said. "We are paying a huge price by not being there."
Huntsman -- described by most as a moderate Republican -- said he does not blame the dysfunction on either party, but instead says both are at fault.
And, he said, the impasse is unacceptable.
"We are better than what is playing out," Huntsman said. "The images going forward are having an impact, I fear, on those watching from the other side of the world."
Many at the meeting applauded the twice-elected governor and his thoughts on the future of the U.S., China, the economy and education.
His economic reforms while governor led the state to historic unemployment lows, said Council Board Director Arthur Smith, who introduced Huntsman. During his tenure, Utah was also voted the best-managed state in the U.S. by the Pew Center.
Huntsman also started a Chinese immersion program in Utah Schools, in part to teach language skills he says will be critical in the 21st century.
Hilton Head Island Elementary School has since implemented this program. Huntsman visited the school Friday afternoon to see the program and students at work.
The languages often taught in schools are good, but "they won't ensure competitiveness and success like Mandarin will," he said. "This is the world our kids are about to step into."
After his talk, many in the audience said they hoped he would run as president in the 2016 election. Huntsman said the 2012 process was a good experience, but he will not run again in three years, though he intends to continue to serve the public.
Videos2012 presidental candidate Jon Huntsman visits Hilton Head Island Elementary Chinese immersion class
About the visit
Jon Huntsman's visit was part of the Town of Hilton Head Island's 350/30 Celebration, which commemorates the 350th anniversary of the island's sighting by Capt. William Hilton and the 30th anniversary of the town's incorporation.
The celebration ends today with a community party from 10 a.m. to 6 .m. on Coligny Beach. Festivities include a ceremony at 2 p.m., during which a photo will be taken of people who have lived on Hilton Head for more than 30 years.
Competitions, games, live music and an appearance by a Capt. Hilton re-enactor are planned, along with a shooting of the RBC Heritage cannon.
For more information, go to celebrationhhi.org.
Follow reporter Sarah Bowman on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Sarah.