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Asia Minute: Diplomatic changes coming to U.S. embassies in region

Senate US Japan
Patrick Semansky/AP
U.S. Ambassador to Japan nominee Rahm Emanuel speaks during a hearing to examine his nomination before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

The Biden Administration is moving ahead on diplomacy with several key countries in the Asia Pacific. The U.S. has many vacancies at the ambassador level — in several cases even before President Biden took office.

The United States has been without an ambassador in Beijing for more than a year, in Tokyo for more than two years and in Singapore for more than four years.

The embassies still perform their functions with career foreign service officers running operations, but the ambassadorial post carries a pragmatic value as well as a symbolic one.

Senate confirmation is required — a process held up this year by opposition from some Republicans.

On Wednesday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held largely cordial hearings for ambassadorial appointees for the three countries — with votes expected as soon as next week.

The names have not been a mystery — career diplomat Nicholas Burns has been named ambassador to China, while former Chicago Mayor and one-time Obama White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel has been appointed as ambassador to Japan.

Less well-known is the choice for Singapore.

Technology entrepreneur Jonathan Kaplan currently heads a nonprofit called “Education Superhighway,” which works to bring high-speed internet to public schools.

Emanuel faced some questions about his response as Chicago mayor to the police shooting of 17-year old Laquan McDonald in 2014, but mostly had a friendly reception.

China was a common theme — with Burns telling Senators that “China’s the greatest threat to the security of our country. And the democratic world.”

Bill Dorman has been the news director at Hawaiʻi Public Radio since 2011.
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