Republican Jon Huntsman resigns as China ambassador
US ambassador to China Jon Huntsman has stepped down from the post, fuelling speculation he is preparing a 2012 White House bid.
The Republican former Utah governor was tapped by President Barack Obama for Beijing envoy in 2009.
The White House declined to speculate on Mr Huntsman's plans.
With the first Republican presidential primary elections less than a year away, no clear favourites have emerged in the race, analysts say.
"When the president picked him in 2009, it was because we believed and continue to believe he brings a broad range of experience to an extremely important ambassadorial post with one of our most important relationships in the world," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said on Monday. "The president continues to believe that."Seen as moderate
If Mr Huntsman, a one-time Mormon missionary in Taiwan, does decide to run for the Republican nomination, his two-year tenure in the Obama administration could prove a vulnerability, analysts say.
The anti-government tea party movement, which has been increasingly vocal in selecting Republican candidates for office, is likely to view Mr Huntsman's work as ambassador to China as an unacceptable capitulation to the political opposition.
Mr Huntsman is also seen as relatively moderate, which could put off conservative Republican primary voters even as it strengthens him in a potential general election against president in November 2012.
Asked last month to comment on the speculation Mr Huntsman would soon launch a White House bid, Mr Obama praised him and quipped: "I'm sure he will be very successful in whatever endeavours he chooses in the future."
Likely Republican candidates include former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, former Arkansas Governor and Fox News commentator Mike Huckabee, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, and others.