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State Department selects veteran diplomat Lambert as top China policy official: sources

The US State Department has chosen veteran diplomat Mark Lambert as its top China policy official, five sources familiar with the matter said, bringing new direction to a part of the department that has struggled with staffing issues and criticism of his handling of China-focused initiatives. .

Lambert will likely be named deputy assistant secretary for China and Taiwan, the sources said, filling the post left in June by Rick Waters.

Waters had also served as head of the China Coordination Office – informally known as “China House” – a unit the department created late last year to merge China policies across regions and countries. problems. Whether Lambert will assume the title of China House coordinator is still under discussion, sources said.

Lambert’s appointment is unlikely to change the tone of Washington’s China policy, which President Joe Biden’s administration sees as one of “intense competition” while trying to increase engagement with Beijing to stabilize the relationships.

But Lambert, a well-known diplomat with experience in East Asia, will certainly influence China House, which has been criticized for adding layers of bureaucracy to an already complex decision-making process.

It is unclear when the State Department will officially announce this appointment.

“We have no personal announcements to make at this time, but the China Coordination Office remains an integral part of the U.S. government’s efforts to responsibly manage our competition with the People’s Republic of China and advance our vision for ‘an open and inclusive international system,” a State Department spokesperson said in an emailed response to a request for comment.

The State Department pushed back on criticism of China House, saying it was one of its most successful teams.

“This has improved coordination and facilitated senior leadership diplomacy and policymaking, with results including enabling the department to respond to the PRC’s surveillance balloon and quickly brief allies and partners around the world to expose the PRC’s global agenda,” a State Department official said.

Senate Confirmation

The United States and China are at odds on issues ranging from Taiwan to trade, fentanyl and human rights, but Washington has sought to keep communication channels open ahead of a possible meeting later this year between Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

An Asia expert who has served twice at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, Lambert most recently served as assistant secretary for Japanese, Korean, and Mongolian affairs, as well as relations with Australia, New Zealand, and the Pacific Islands.

In this new role, he will continue to report to Assistant Secretary Daniel Kritenbrink, who heads the ministry’s East Asia and Pacific Affairs office.

Reuters reported in May that the State Department delayed sensitive actions on China in an attempt to limit damage to bilateral relations after an alleged Chinese spy balloon flew through US airspace in February.

Senior officials have acknowledged the morale and personnel issues at China House, but denied they are related to how the State Department conducts China policy.

Congressional Republicans question whether the Biden administration’s efforts to engage with senior Chinese officials have led to watered-down measures on Beijing, an idea the department rejects.

Republican concerns about China House have led to questions about whether the Senate, which has the power to confirm top-level nominations, might insist on vetting any candidate for the leadership of the unit.

If so, two of the sources said that rather than appointing Lambert as China House coordinator, the State Department could simply appoint an already confirmed official, such as Kritenbrink.

But two people familiar with the thinking of the Senate told Reuters that at this time the senators have no intention of imposing a confirmation process.

China House “is still a new experiment and we have to wait to see its effectiveness before taking steps to make it more permanent,” said one of those present.

USA voanews

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