BEIJING — US Ambassador Jon Huntsman was spotted in an area of downtown Beijing where activists had called for Middle East-style protests at the weekend, but the embassy said Wednesday his presence was pure coincidence.
Chinese web users have posted photos and a video of Huntsman standing outside a McDonald's outlet in the central Wangfujing shopping district -- one of 13 sites listed in a web appeal for a homegrown "Jasmine Revolution".
Only a handful of protesters turned out on Sunday amid a heavy security presence in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and other cities across China, and the rallies ended without major incident.
Huntsman and his family "were on their way to Tiananmen Square and they walked to Wangfujing, and the fact that that happened and they were there at the time was purely coincidental," embassy spokesman Richard Buangan told AFP.
"Let me stress again that he was with his family. They were on a family outing and their presence there was coincidental."
Following last week's events, an online campaign has urged people in 13 Chinese cities to rally every Sunday to press for government transparency and free expression.
China's government has indicated growing unease over the wave of unrest in the Arab world, heavily censoring or blocking media reports and online discussion of the upheaval, which has toppled presidents in Tunisia and Egypt.
A few web users criticised the US envoy's presence at the scene in Beijing on Sunday, with one saying on www.m4.cn: "Jon Huntsman, get out of China and back to the US!"
Huntsman, the former Republican governor of Utah and one-time deputy US trade representative who took up his post in China in August 2009, has said he will step down as of April 30.
He stirred speculation about a possible bid for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012 with a Newsweek interview late last year in which he suggested he had one political run left in him.
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