WASHINGTON • US President Joe Biden has nominated Mr Nicholas Burns, a veteran foreign service officer and a former envoy to Nato, as ambassador to China and Mr Rahm Emanuel, the former mayor of Chicago and the first chief of staff to then President Barack Obama, as ambassador to Japan.
Mr Biden settled on both nominees months ago, people involved in the process said.
But the official announcement was delayed in part because Washington needs the host countries to sign off on such selections before proceeding.
The nominations were announced on Friday afternoon, hours after Mr Biden delivered remarks on the chaos in Afghanistan following the Taleban’s regaining of control, the biggest foreign policy crisis of his presidency to date.
Mr Burns is poised to fill a diplomatic vacuum as an increasingly ideological conflict between China and the United States has led to worsening relations.
In March, an extraordinarily tense meeting in Anchorage between top Chinese and American diplomats devolved into public renunciations.
Around that time, Mr Biden had been deciding between Mr Emanuel and Mr Burns to be his ambassador to China, one of the most important embassy postings. He said he was interested in choosing a “principal” who would send a different sort of message than a career diplomat would, people involved in the process said.
The diplomatic world, however, was pushing for Mr Burns, a career foreign service official who has served in both Republican and Democratic administrations, over someone whose background was steeped in domestic politics.
“I welcome this opportunity to work on behalf of the President and the American people on the strategic competition between the US and the PRC, as well as other difficult and complex challenges we face at this critical juncture in our relationship,” Mr Burns said in a statement, using the official name People’s Republic of China.
Mr Emanuel, who developed a close relationship with Mr Biden when the latter was vice-president, was among those being considered for a Cabinet position during the transition.
But that speculation renewed ire from progressives who were critical of his performance as mayor, particularly over his handling of the fatal shooting of a black teenager, Laquan McDonald, by a Chicago police officer in 2014.
Mr Emanuel has also been a contender for the Japan ambassadorship since the presidential transition. If confirmed, he would head to Tokyo at a time when US officials are hoping that stronger relations with Japan can serve as a counterbalance to its deteriorating relationship with China.
“The alliance between the United States and Japan is the cornerstone of peace and prosperity in a free and open Indo-Pacific, and I would proudly represent our nation with one of our most critical global allies in one of the most critical geopolitical regions,” Mr Emanuel said in a statement.