China-US relations

Donald Trump picks Susan Thornton as top US diplomat for East Asia

Susan Thornton joined the US State Department in 1991 and has been posted previously in China and former Soviet republics

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 20 December, 2017, 2:43pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 20 December, 2017, 9:25pm

US President Donald Trump has nominated career foreign service officer Susan Thornton as top US diplomat for East Asia, the White House said, as a step to build a full-fledged team to tackle North Korea’s escalating nuclear threat.

Thornton is expected to handle relations with Japan, China, South Korea and other Asian countries as the assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs.

The post has been vacant since the departure of Daniel Russel, who served under the administration of Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama.

The US government was also set to nominate Victor Cha, who served as a top adviser on North Korean affairs under President George W. Bush, as ambassador to South Korea, underscoring Trump’s commitment to containing Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions.

Serving as acting assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs since March, Thornton, who joined the US State Department in 1991, has been one of the major players in the Trump administration’s Asia policy that includes measures to rein in North Korea’s nuclear and missile programmes.

In June, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson asked the White House to appoint Thornton as the assistant secretary, but the proposal was rejected by other administration members, including former chief strategist Steve Bannon.

According to US government sources, Thornton is seen as pro-China among Republicans on the grounds that she has been engaged in mapping out policies toward Beijing for Tillerson.

During his tenure, Bannon wanted to remove Thornton from the current post. Bannon resigned in August.

Thornton’s nomination requires Senate confirmation.

In a separate move, Trump tapped Andrea Thompson, who has more than 25 years of military service in the US Army, as the undersecretary of state for arms control and international security. She was deployed and stationed in countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq.