US President Barack Obama has appointed US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice to take over from Tom Donilon as his new national security adviser.
The move, while of enormous foreign policy importance, is unlikely to result in any immediate changes in Washington’s dealings with either China or Taiwan.
Obama is believed to be satisfied with the policies formulated by Donilon — who is bowing out of his own accord — and insiders say Rice has no plans to steer the president away from US initiatives already in place for Asia.
Insiders also stress that Rice has managed to impress China at the UN and to develop personal friendships with leading Chinese diplomats.
At a White House press briefing on Wednesday — held immediately before Obama formally appointed 48-year-old Rice — White House spokesman Jay Carney was asked specifically about the US president’s “stance on Taiwan.”
“Our position on Taiwan is unchanged,” he said.
Senior White House officials said earlier that “territorial disputes” would be raised as an issue at the two-day California summit opening today between Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平).
“What’s the expectation that President Obama has for the discussions on maritime tension — and will the Taiwan issue come up during the meeting?” Carney was asked.
He said that it was a hallmark of the US relationship with China that “we speak very clearly and candidly” about all issues.
“That includes all the areas of cooperation and the areas where we seek deepening cooperation — the ways that our economies are intertwined, the ways that we can cooperate more fully in the national security sphere, in the military sphere,” he said.
Carney said it also included those areas where the two nations have different points of view.
“We discuss them all,” he said.
In what could be a further signal that Obama plans to continue with policies on Asia that were largely developed by Donilon, Carney confirmed that Donilon would be at the president’s side during the summit and that Rice would not attend.
The New York Times reported on Wednesday that Donilon had “exerted sweeping influence, mostly behind the scenes” on issues from counterterrorism to the reorientation of the US to Asia and away from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
There has been wide speculation that Donilon, 58, was the source of a quote to the Financial Times that may have damaged Democratic Progressive Party presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) before the presidential election last year.
Tsai had talked at some length with US officials, including National Security Council members.
“She left us with distinct doubts about whether she is both willing and able to continue the stability in cross-strait relations the region has enjoyed in recent years,” the Financial Times quoted an unnamed official as saying.
The statement was perceived as interference with Taiwan’s internal politics and some senior officials at the US Department of State were reportedly furious, but could do little about it because of Donilon’s closeness to Obama.