Top US defense policymaker for Asia Richard Lawless has quit at a critical time for the administration of President George W. Bush, which is under pressure to devise a strategy to counter China's military ambitions.
Lawless, the deputy under secretary of defense for Asia and Pacific security affairs, "has elected to retire from the US government in July 2007 after four-and-a-half years of distinguished service" in the Pentagon, the Defense Department said in a statement.
Aside from dealing with China, Lawless had been a key figure in handling the US security alliances with Japan and South Korea, particularly in talks over the future of military bases in two Asian allies.
"I appreciate the opportunity to serve the nation in a time of war in the face of multiple challenges, and to have been able to do so in the company of truly selfless patriots," Lawless said in a brief statement.
Although Lawless, who had serious back problems and underwent surgery, resigned because of personal reasons, his absence would be felt, especially as the Pentagon considers strategies to cope with an expanding Chinese military, experts said.
The Pentagon is soon expected to submit its annual report to Congress on China's military power.
Lawless's departure "is an extraordinary loss," said Daniel Blumenthal, the Pentagon's senior director for China, Taiwan and Mongolia until November 2004.
"He does not see Asia through Sino-centric lenses like so many in the administration. He is committed to a Japan and allies-first policy in Asia, where others think that what is good for China is good for America," Bluementhal said.
"He is the rare policymaker with both a strategic vision and operational capabilities," he added.
Richard Bush, an Asian expert at Washington-based Brookings Institution, cautioned against "overreading the departure of one person," and said he did not expect a big shift in policy and direction in favor of China.
"This is happening at the same time when Congress is exerting some pressure on the economic side of our relationship with China and underlying all this is the reality of the situation and reality of certain interests," he said.