Thomas Crampton

Social Media in China and across Asia

Rumors: Obama’s China and Japan ambassadors

Feb 4, 2009

Chris Nelson of Samuels International has the latest rumors on Obama’s appointments for China and Japan ambassadorships:

Many Loyal Readers ask who we are hearing for Obama’s Ambassador to China, now that it does appear the candidates for Japan have been narrowed to Joe Nye and Joe Nye.

If Harvard Prof. Nye is formally offered, and accepts, no group on earth will be more relieved than Japanese journalists here, who have been reporting this as a “done deal” for weeks.

But to be serious, it DOES sound as though the deal is about to be done…so stay tuned.

Whether it comes before Secretary of State Clinton’s North Asia ramble next week (due in Tokyo Feb. 12, then the ROK, winding up in Beijing around Feb. 19) is anyone’s guess.

Sources say A/S EAP Chris Hill, to be succeeded at some point this Spring by Kurt Campbell, will accompany Clinton, something of a “farewell tour” for him, before he leaves for Baghdad.

Parenthetically, several Loyal Readers asked why we didn’t “report” Hill’s selection for Iraq, and the answer is…in the past, whenever we got a rumor of Hill’s job future, we always emailed it to him, and usually within the hour, got a cheerfully “colorful” denial.

This time…nothing either way. So upon reflection, we should have taken Sherlock Holmes’ advice on the dog who didn’t bark, and run with it. Anyhow…next time.

Oh…this started out about “names” for China…

Informed indications are that this posting is seen as VERY important by Obama personally, so don’t be surprised if the final selection is someone who fits several criteria, not the least being a Big Player close to the President himself.

This does not rule out in advance the names we DO hear…but it should put into perspective what the judgment criteria will likely be.

We’ve written in the past that there are two basic types of “lists”…the “this person MUST be given a job, where shall we place?”, and, “this is an important JOB, who can we send?”

In their new book, “Difficult Transitions”, two folks who just happen to be major State Department decision-makers, Deputy Secretary Jim Steinberg, and soon-to-be officially nominated Kurt Campbell A/S EAP, somewhat more cheekily talk about three criteria:

“The Worthies”, defined as recognized experts but not necessarily Big Names or Political Players; “The Allstars”, meaning Big Players who might also be “Must hire…somewhere”; and “The Usual Suspects”…folks who always manage to get their names on lists, but who may not have much more chance for a job than me or thee.

We have far more sense than to even THINK about characterizing the following by ANY possible category, but think it IS useful to see this list of unusually high-quality names, folks with real depth in China affairs, and the USG, going back many years:

Most frequently mentioned, NOT in order, are National Committee on US-China Relations president Steve Orlins, and major political/Obama donor John Thornton, he of the Thornton Center at Brookings…home of the newly-minted Senior Director for Asia, NSC, Jeff Bader;

And in the China specialist/academic cone, most frequently noted are former Clinton DAS Susan Shirk, former Clinton NSC Ken Lieberthal, and David Shambaugh, professor at George Washington U here, and recognized expert on PLA modernization, especially vis-a-vis Taiwan.

For discussion purposes, we asked an informed source “what about Robert Rubin?” and got back, “not confirmable…you know why…”

(Hint…think Citibank, think Daschle, think too much money, think “just too hot right now…”)

If any Loyal Readers think THEY should have been on this list, our lunch calendar is open….you know what to do…

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