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Donald Trump

Trump taps ex-Hong Kong private equity manager Philip Bilden for US Navy secretary

Philip Bilden recently retired as a co-founding member of HarbourVest, a global private-equity firm and established its Asian presence in Hong Kong

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 26 January, 2017, 10:47am
UPDATED : Thursday, 26 January, 2017, 10:14pm

US President Donald Trump has selected long-time private equity fund manager Philip Bilden to be the next secretary of the Navy, the White House announced Wednesday.

Bilden, who ran the Hong Kong branch of the private equity firm Harbourvest Partners since 1996 before recently stepping down, was floated by the Trump transition team as a candidate for the job earlier this month, according to a report from the US Naval Institute.

“As Secretary of the Navy, Philip Bilden will apply his terrific judgement and top-notch management skills to the task of rebuilding our unparalleled Navy,” Trump said in a statement.

Prior to Bilden, Republican politician Randy Forbes was a front-runner for the position. Forbes, a former chairman of the Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee, had long aligned with Trump’s vision of expanding the US Navy from its current size of roughly 270 ships to 350.

The Trump administration on Monday raised the prospect of worsening tensions with China when it vowed to prevent Beijing from taking over territory in international waters in the South China Sea, something Chinese state media has warned would require Washington to “wage war”.

A graduate of Georgetown University and Harvard Business School, Bilden served in the Army Reserve as an intelligence officer from 1986 to 1996, eventually attaining the rank of captain. He resigned his commission upon moving to Hong Kong.

In 2013, AsianInvestor magazine named Bilden as one of Asia’s 25 most influential people in private equity, according to a blurb on the Harbourvest website.

James Carafano, at the Heritage Foundation think tank, said Bilden had “all the makings of a great secretary of the Navy.”

“He loves the service, possesses a deep knowledge of the cyber challenges facing the force, and understands the threat posed by rising naval powers such as China.”

He is an expert on Asia and understands, in particular, China very deeply
Retired admiral James Stavridis

USNI News, the news portal of the US Naval Institute, quoted a former Nato supreme commander, retired Admiral James Stavridis, as saying last week that Bilden was “a man of extraordinary expertise on maritime and nautical affairs.”

“He is an expert on Asia and understands, in particular, China very deeply.”

Bilden has served on the board of directors of the United States Naval Academy Foundation and the board of trustees of the Naval War College Foundation. He is also a long-time Republican donor, according to the Centre for Responsive Politics. In 2011 and 2012 he donated more than $60,000 to the Republican National Committee and $5,000 to former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney’s failed presidential campaign.

Pending a majority vote in the Senate, Bilden will become the 76th secretary of the Navy, following Ray Mabus’s eight-year tenure in the position. Mabus, who pushed for social and climate change initiatives within the Navy and Marine Corps, was seen as divisive figure by some, especially those who pushed back against President Barack Obama’s decision to open all jobs in the military to women.

“Maintaining the strength, readiness, and capabilities of our maritime force is critical to our national security,” Bilden said in a statement.

“If confirmed, I will ensure that our Sailors and Marines have the resources they need to defend our interests around the globe and support our allies with commitment and capability.”

Bilden’s background in finance is similar to that of Trump’s choice for secretary of the Army, billionaire businessman Vincent Viola. Neither Bilden or Viola has experience in government. Potential Air Force secretary Heather Wilson, however, is a former congresswoman and currently heads the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology.

Additional reporting by Reuters