William Stanton, former deputy chief of mission to the US embassy in Seoul, South Korea, has been appointed new director of the Taipei office of the American Institute in Taiwan.
Stanton is one of the most controversial figures ever to get the job and his appointment may lead to new legislation being introduced in Congress demanding that all future candidates for AIT director go through a Senate confirmation like ambassadors do.
The State Department is authorized under the Taiwan Relations Act to make the appointment without oversight.
Stanton’s name first surfaced months ago at the top of the list of potential candidates to take over from outgoing AIT Director Stephen Young, who is retiring.
Congressional sources said that complaints had been made against Stanton when he was a senior official at the Beijing embassy for being overly pro-Chinese, saying that he blocked reports that reflected badly on China from being sent to Washington.
In April, Stanton was alleged to have made highly insensitive comments about two US journalists — Taiwanese-American Laura Ling (凌志美) and Korean-American Euna Lee — who were arrested by North Korean authorities on charges they illegally entered the country.
A memorandum that circulated around the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee said Stanton told a group of young congressional staff members visiting the embassy in Seoul that the women were “stupid” and that their case was “distracting from bigger issues.”
Last month, both women were sentenced to 12 years of hard labor and US President Barack Obama has become personally involved in trying to win their freedom.
Republican Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen has since said that she favors Senate confirmation for the position of director of the American Institute in Taiwan and is expected to introduce such legislation in the near future. She was not available for comment on Wednesday.
But in a clear reference to Stanton she said last month: “Not only has there been controversy about certain past directors, but my understanding is that the current leading candidate for that position made insensitive remarks about our two US citizens in North Korea sentenced only yesterday to years in the North Korean gulag, referring to them as ‘stupid.’ Is this the kind of representation we want in such a critical posting as Taipei?”
Following Ros-Lehtinen’s remarks, the Taipei Times was told that Stanton was no longer at the top of the list to be the new director and it seems that a final decision was not made until the last minute.
As recently as last Friday, it was reported that Young had very strongly indicated that no final decision had yet been made on his replacement.
The Central News Agency reported that Young said the authorities were “very close” to picking his successor and that when a decision was made it would be announced from Washington.
The formal announcement of Stanton’s appointment said he would take over in Taipei next month.
Born in New Jersey, Stanton was educated at Fordham University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Prior to his job in Seoul, he served both as charge d’affaires ad interim and as deputy chief of mission at the US embassy in Canberra, Australia.
Stanton is married to Foreign Service Officer Karen Clark Stanton and they have two daughters.