Nominated East Asia diplomat 'top choice'

Updated: 2013-05-17 11:40

By Chen Weihua in Washington (China Daily)

  Print Mail Large Medium  Small 分享按钮 0

The nomination by President Barack Obama of Daniel Russel, a Japan specialist, as the United States' top diplomat for East Asia is being welcomed broadly.

The White House on Wednesday announced the selection of the career diplomat to serve, pending Senate approval, as assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs.

Russel, a special assistant to Obama and senior director for Asian affairs on the National Security Council, would replace Kurt Campbell, who left in February and founded the Asia Group, a strategic advisory and investment firm.

Russel's nomination comes as the US administration faces a slew of challenges in Asia, including the goal of denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula. The Democratic People's Republic of Korea conducted its third nuclear test in February.

China and the Republic of Korea are at odds with Japan over territorial claims and other issues left from World War II. Meanwhile, Beijing and Washington are exploring "a new type of great-power relationship" as proposed by China's President Xi Jinping.

Russel joined the US diplomatic corps in 1985. He served as the National Security Council director for Japan, the ROK and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea from 2009 to 2011. He previously was director of the State Department's Office of Japanese Affairs.

His Asia experience also includes serving as consul general in Osaka-Kobe, Japan, from 2005 to 2008, and early assignments at the US Embassy in Seoul.

Russel is widely regarded as an expert on Japan, but he also has extensive knowledge of the Korean Peninsula and East Asia.

According to news reports, Russel helped prepare Secretary of State John Kerry for a mid-April trip to China that was intended to seek further Chinese support for defusing tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

Kenneth Lieberthal, a senior fellow and China specialist at the Brookings Institution, said that as a career diplomat, Russel would bring key strengths to the new job.

Russel "is deeply familiar with the president's thinking about Asia policy. The White House ties will serve him well as he moves into the assistant secretary position at the State Department," Lieberthal said.

He said Russel has a deep understanding of issues facing the region and has dealt directly with many senior officials throughout Asia.

Lieberthal described Russel's style as relatively low-key. "Overall, he is a calm, professional and pragmatic individual who knows how to get things done in Washington," the analyst said.

Orville Schell, director of the Center on US-China Relations at the Asia Society, described Russel as a very knowledgeable, experienced and able Asia hand with important diplomatic skills that have been honed by his work on the National Security Council.

"My main concern is that the Obama administration currently lacks a high official with strong China experience and a record of dealing face-to-face with Chinese officials," he said. "I hope the Obama administration will find a way to remedy this gap, possibly even by designating someone like Vice-President (Joe) Biden, as president Bush designated (Treasury Secretary) Hank Paulson, to carry a special interdepartmental China portfolio."

China-US relations have the best chance for stability, Schell believes, when each side has an effective, high-level go-between.

Bonnie Glaser, a senior Asia adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, expressed confidence in the selection. "Danny (Russel) has solid experience in dealing with the full range of issues in the Asia-Pacific region," she said.

Glaser said US-China relations have moved on from their early stages. "Tensions between the US and China are primarily caused by conflicts of interest and a security dilemma that is emerging between the pre-eminent superpower, the US, and the emerging power, China," she said. "These issues require effective management, but the road ahead will not be smooth."

Jonathan Pollack, director of Brookings' John L. Thornton China Center, called the new nomination "very appropriate".

Russel "has ample diplomatic experience in East Asia and has been deeply involved in the formation of the Obama administration's Asia-Pacific strategy since early 2009", Pollack said. "Though it depends on personal ties between senior officials, the relationship is far too developed and multidimensional to base it largely on one or two prominent figures," he added.

(China Daily 05/17/2013 page1)