The White House has formally approved the appointment of Stephen Young, the former No. 2 in the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) in Taipei, to replace Director Douglas Paal when he steps down, according to well-placed sources in Washington. Young will arrive in March to take over the post if the administration of President Chen Shui-bian (
Both the White House and the US State Department declined to confirm the reports, and they are not expected to do so until after Taiwan officially approves the appointment.
While Young has been tipped as Paal's successor since last summer, the first word of the White House's formal approval came during a seminar on Taiwan on Thursday morning at the Heritage Foundation, when Heritage scholar John Tkacik, making a presentation, said he had been told of the development. That was later confirmed to the Taipei Times by a Taiwan-related official.
The National Security Council press office, which deals with the foreign media for the White House, did not return a telephone request for information.
A State Department spokesman said only that "the effort to have a successor in place [for Douglas Paal] is underway, and as soon as it is possible to announce someone, that will happen. But we are not at the point where that can happen yet."
Asked about Young earlier this month, department spokesman Sean McCormack said that no announcement would be made until "a new director is named and arrives in Taipei."
What must happen now, according to people familiar with the process, is that the government notifies the AIT in Washington, which communicates with Taipei, which must respond positively to the appointment before Young can assume office.
Former officials who worked with Young during his posting to Taipei from the summer of 1998 to the summer of 2001 had nothing but praise for him.
Former AIT chairman Richard Bush said, "I think he did a superior job representing the US at that time. He and Ray Burghardt were instrumental in establishing channels of communications with the Chen team before the March 2000 election."
Burghardt was the AIT director from 1999 to 2001, and is reportedly in line to become the next AIT chairman.
Because of those communications, Bush added, "the transit that occurred in the spring of 2000 was smoother, and the US-Taiwan dimension of the transit was far smoother."
"As a result of his role in that, he knows the people now in the government, and he will slide easily into his role as director, if appointed," Bush said.
Young will also be able to establish good relations with the pan-blue opposition, Bush said.
Former assistant secretary of state for East Asia, James Kelly, who worked regularly with Young as assistant director in Taipei and when Young was acting director after Burghardt's departure, joined in the praise, saying, "this is good news for Taipei, it is good news for Washington."
"Steve Young is an experienced diplomat. Steve did an outstanding job in a difficult post in Kyrgyzstan," where he was ambassador until retiring last summer.
Young "has a very fine sense of individuals and the atmosphere in Taipei and Taiwan, and I think he'll do a very good job of representing Washington there. I think he had a good reputation as a manager of that post," Kelly said.