Biden's nominations for key diplomatic posts slow as power transition hits bumps
Published: Feb 03, 2021 10:13 PM

US Embassy in China Photo: cnsphoto

US President Joe Biden has yet to announce nominees for ambassadors to most major countries, but US media reported that former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel will likely be nominated to a high-profile ambassadorship, potentially to China, with analysts saying that the new US ambassador to China would be "a tough job" so the person needs to be experienced and professional.

Biden is considering Emanuel for ambassador to China or Japan, according to a source with knowledge of the matter, NBC News reported on Monday. Experts believe that the new ambassador to China would play a key role in China-US relations, so the person needs to be a professional politician with a well-known reputation, as this would be a tough job. 

Emanuel, who became White House chief of staff when Barack Obama took office as president, has a reputation as a sharp-tongued political street fighter. He has clashed at times with progressive Democrats. 

Emanuel's latest experience related to China was to handle the impact of the trade war that was unilaterally launched by the Trump administration. When Emanuel was the mayor of Chicago in July 2018, he visited Beijing on a mission to salvage business deals threatened by a tariff war. Emanuel met with Chinese Vice President Wang Qishan and China's commerce minister in an effort to lock in a $1.3 billion deal for a Chinese company to assemble rail cars in Chicago, according to the AP.

Diao Daming, an expert on US studies at the Renmin University of China, told the Global Times on Wednesday that since Biden's major officials in the foreign affairs sector all attach great importance to China affairs, the ambassador to China needs to be a person with strong experience in politics, top-class professionalism, a well-known reputation and prestige in political circles, as well as trust from the president. 

Douglas H. Paal, vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told the Global Times in a previous interview that "who is appointed as new US ambassador to China, and whether China will accept the ambassador picked by Biden" will be a key indicator of bilateral ties in the first 100 days.

"My country has a bad habit of appointing amateurs to positions that require expertise" and "I hope President Biden will select an ambassador for proven competence" because "skilled work requires a skilled workman and there is a great deal of work to be done to repair China-US relations," Chas Freeman, former US assistant secretary of defense, told the Global Times in a previous interview.

Biden's predecessor Donald Trump nominated an ambassador to China in December 2016, just a month after he declared victory in the election in November that year. But now, according to the Washington Post, many ambassadorial posts in major countries and key US allies still have no occupants. It's not just China and Japan, but also France, the UK and India. Biden has asked the ambassador to Russia nominated by Trump to stay in the post. 

Lü Xiang, an expert in US studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing, said that before Biden comprehensively announces his foreign affairs plans at the Department of State, it's unlikely there will be a complete list of ambassadors.

Normally, US ambassadorships to countries like France, Japan or the UK are a "reward" to the president's key supporters during the election, but the ambassadors to countries like China or Russia have a tough job, so Biden will consider it very carefully, Lü noted.

The tough job includes the need to fix many things and some observers said a key indicator is whether the two countries would reopen the consulates that were closed last year due to the unilateral provocation made by the Trump administration. Diao said this is not something that the ambassador can decide - it depends to what extent bilateral ties could recover. 

"If Biden can fix the ties soon and relations are normalized, then the ambassador will find the job more pleasant, but if both sides find obstacles to fixing ties or even have new conflicts, then the job would be difficult," Diao said.