A LONG-TERM Asia expert and former White House official has emerged as the frontrunner to land the job as the State Department's key figure on Asian policy. Stanley Roth, director of research at the US Institute of Peace - a Washington-based think-tank - was yesterday confirmed by officials as top of the list to become the new assistant Secretary of State for East Asian affairs. Mr Roth served as an Asian policy chief in the White House's National Security Council in the first half of President Bill Clinton's first term. The decision is in the hands of incoming Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who is expected to name her assistants this week after being confirmed by the Senate. If selected, Mr Roth will succeed Winston Lord, whose four-year tenure in the job has been marked by much turbulence and in-fighting between the White House and State Department over China. The official in the post has to take the lead in dealing with China on a number of contentious issues, and with the future of Hong Kong coming more into focus, the job is certain to be one of the most demanding in the State Department. Mr Roth is an expert on North Korea and the programme to decommission its nuclear programme, and is fully acquainted with the China issues. If he lands the job, his views on Asia could be even more crucial than those of Mr Lord, since Mrs Albright is known to have a far deeper knowledge of, and interest in, Europe than the Far East. Another name floated for the job is that of Stapleton Roy, former ambassador to Beijing and now envoy to Jakarta. But he is thought to be more likely to be named ambassador to Moscow.