HUNTSMAN TO CHINA…. When it comes to the political chessboard, this is an intriguing move.

Utah Gov. Jon M. Huntsman Jr. (R) will be introduced today as President Obama’s choice as ambassador to China, a source familiar with the decision said last night. […]

Several Salt Lake City media outlets reported last night that Huntsman had accepted the offer to head the U.S. mission in Beijing, and that Lt. Gov. Gary R. Herbert would replace him as governor. The Salt Lake Tribune reported that Huntsman was in Washington last night, but that calls to his spokeswoman and various staffers were not returned.

Huntsman was elected in November to a second term as Utah’s governor, drawing 70 percent of the vote. He served in the George W. Bush administration as deputy U.S. trade representative from 2001 to 2004 and, for President George H.W. Bush, was ambassador to Singapore. He is an expert on China, and he speaks Mandarin Chinese fluently.

David Plouffe, who managed the Obama campaign, conceded recently that he saw Huntsman as one of the few Republicans on presidential caliber, and hinted that, for Democrats’ sake, he hoped Huntsman doesn’t run in 2012.

Now, that probably won’t be an issue.

By tapping Huntsman for the job, Obama gets a Mandarin-speaking official — something Chinese leaders will no doubt appreciate — while also removing a credible re-election challenger. The president also boosts his bipartisan cred by adding another high-profile Republican to his administration.

By accepting the job, Huntsman, part of the small sane wing of the Republican Party, probably puts his 2012 ambitions on hold, but boosts his long-term prospects considerably. By 2016, he’ll likely be the only Republican presidential candidate to have a resume that includes impressive domestic experience (popular governor), impressive foreign policy experience (two-time ambassador), service under three different presidents, first-hand knowledge of a burgeoning superpower, and some bipartisan bona fides of his own.

What’s more, in 2016, Huntsman will only be 56 years old.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.