Trump Names Hardliner as East Asia Point Man

David Stilwell /Yonhap

U.S. President Donald Trump has nominated Air Force veteran David Stilwell as assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, according to the White House on Wednesday.

The position covers diplomacy with the Korean Peninsula, China, and Japan. His predecessor Susan Thornton stepped down in July amid rumors that she was too moderate, whereas Stilwell is thought to be a hardliner.

It can be hard to tell why people come and go in the frantically revolving doors of the Trump administration, but Stilwell's appointment may reflect the fact that hardliners are increasingly gaining the upper hand. Trump only recently described Defense Secretary James Mattis, who is thought to have been a steadying force, as "sort of a Democrat."

The White House described Stilwell as "an Air Force veteran with more than 35 years of experience as a pilot, commander, and Korean linguist."

He retired in 2015 with the rank of brigadier general and is currently the director of the China Strategic Focus Group at the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command Headquarters in Hawaii.

He learned Korean in a military language school in California and served as a fighter pilot in Gunsan, North Jeolla Province, from 1993 to 1995. He also speaks Chinese and some Japanese.

Stilwell is said to be very close to U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Harry Harris, with whom he shares a hawkish stance on China. Stilwell is the latest and the last addition to senior management within the State Department who deal with Korean issues. It took one year and nine months to complete the lineup.

He joins Special Representative for North Korea Steven Biegun, Marc Knapper, the acting deputy assistant secretary of state for Korea and Japan affairs, Mark Lambert, the acting deputy assistant secretary of state for North Korea, and Harris.