Donald Trump to appoint Air Force veteran David Stilwell to senior Asian diplomatic role, vital to overseeing relations with China
His predecessor was considered to be not hawkish enough on China and therefore out of step with the rest of Trump’s Asia leadership team
US President Donald Trump on Wednesday announced his intention to nominate a US Air Force veteran to fill the top East Asia diplomat at the Department of State. According to a statement issued by the White House, the US president intended to nominate David Stilwell of Hawaii to be an assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, a crucial role overseeing diplomatic relations with 31 Asian countries and areas, including China.
If confirmed by the US Senate, Stilwell would replace his predecessor Susan Thornton, who was acting assistant secretary and retired from the post at the end of July. Thornton, a veteran officer in the US diplomatic corps, has been, according to The Washington Post and other US media, not hawkish enough on China and therefore out of step with the rest of Trump’s Asia leadership team.
Stilwell is an Air Force veteran with more than 35 years of experience as a pilot, commander, and Korean linguist. He retired in 2015 with the rank of Brigadier General, the White House statement said.
Other contenders for the position included Matt Pottinger, a senior director for Asian affairs on the National Security Council, according to ABC News and The Washington Post.
Daniel Russel, a former assistant secretary for the top Asia diplomat post from 2013-17 praised Stilwell’s nomination.
“I have worked with Dave Stillwell over the years and know him to be a real professional with extensive service in the Asia Pacific,” Russel said via email. “I’m glad the president has at last nominated a candidate for this important position and that he has selected an experienced hand.”
Douglas Paal, vice-president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, also welcomed the nomination.
“General Stilwell is an accomplished veteran of security and defence policy on and in China and the broader East Asian region,” Paal said. “In my experience, he is a realistic and pragmatic problem-solver and a straight shooter. He is respected by people I respect who know him better than I do.”
Currently, Stilwell is a director of the China Strategic Focus Group at the US Indo-Pacific Command Headquarters in Hawaii and an Adjunct Senior Fellow at the East West Centre in Honolulu, Hawaii.
The general’s area of expertise is political-military issues in the Asia-Pacific region with a special focus on China-US relations, especially as they relate to US security alliances, according to an introduction posted on the East West Centre.
Before retiring, Stilwell served as served as deputy director for politico-military affairs for Asia at the US Department of Defence, where he was responsible for regional planning and policy, and for the implementation of the national security strategy, supporting the commanders of US Pacific Command and US Central Command.
Before that he served as Defence Attache at the US Embassy in Beijing from 2011-13. He is proficient in Chinese and Korean and has limited capability in Japanese, it said.