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President Barack Obama on Saturday named Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. to serve as U.S. ambassador to China, a dream job friends say the Republican governor had eyed for years.

Obama, appearing in the Diplomatic Room of the White House alongside Huntsman and his extended family, said Huntsman will bring a lifetime of experience to a post that is one of the world's most important ambassadorships.

"I can think of no one better suited to take on this assignment than the governor of the great state of Utah, Jon Huntsman," Obama said. "I hope the people of Utah will forgive me and understand how proud the nation is for their governor's willingness to answer his nation's call."

Huntsman, who co-chaired the presidential campaign of Obama's opponent, Sen. John McCain, said he never expected to be called by the "person who beat us," but that he "humbly accepts" the offer.

"I grew up understanding the most basic responsibility one has is service to country," Huntsman said. "When the president of the United States asks you to step up ad serve in a capacity like this, that to me is the end of the conversation and the beginning of the obligation to rise to the challenge."

The president's move likely takes out a potential 2012 competitor and also bulks up the number of Republicans in senior positions in the Obama administration. Huntsman had made waves in the Republican party for touting more moderate views, such as his support for civil unions and for a regional cap-and-trade market.

Huntsman, who is expected to resign his office upon Senate confirmation, is well-versed in Asian affairs after serving as U.S. ambassador to Singapore under President George H.W. Bush and also as an LDS missionary in Taiwan in his youth.

The governor, now serving in his second term, is also fluent in Mandarin Chinese and has an adopted Chinese daughter, Gracie Mei. During his first term, Huntsman led a trade delegation to China and was scheduled for a second trip next week before it was canceled because of swine flu fears.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, praised Huntsman's nomination.

"Jon is very qualified to take this job and should be an excellent ambassador," Hatch said.

Huntsman planned a news conference for Monday with Lt. Gov. Gary Herbert to discuss the transition. Neither Huntsman nor Obama took questions at the brief announcement Saturday.