5 U.S. Ambassadors to China

Five former U.S. ambassadors to China appeared together in a program for the first time on December 9, 2008. The program featured ambassadors Winston Lord (1985-89), James Lilley (1989-91), J. Stapleton Roy (1991-95), James R. Sasser (1996-99), and Joseph Prueher (1999-2001). In an exchange moderated by National Committee president Stephen Orlins, the ambassadors candidly reflected on the challenges, excitement, crises and achievements of their tenures, and shared insights on the future of U.S.-China relations.

Winston Lord: As special assistant to the National Security Advisor, Winston Lord accompanied Henry Kissinger on his secret visit to China in 1971 and President Nixon on his historic opening in 1972, as well as subsequent trips by President Ford and Dr. Kissinger. From 1985 to 1989 he served as ambassador to Beijing under Presidents Reagan and Bush. From 1993-1997 he was Assistant Secretary of State in charge of all East Asian policy, including China, under President Clinton. Lord’s other key government assignments were in the State Department as the director of Policy Planning (1973-1977) and in the Defense and State Departments in the 1960’s. He currently serves as Chairman Emeritus of the International Rescue Committee, the largest non-sectarian organization that both helps refugees abroad and resettles them in the United States.

James Lilley: Lilley was born in Qingdao, China in 1928, where his father was working for Standard Oil. He remained in China until 1940. Lilley was in the CIA until 1975, serving in Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Laos, Cambodia, Philippines, Thailand and Beijing and as the national intelligence officer for China (1975-78). He then changed careers to work for Hunt Oil (1978-80) and United Technologies (1979-80). He served on the National Security Council’s East Asia staff (1981-82) before becoming the director of the American Institute in Taiwan (1982-84). He worked for Otis Elevator (1984-85) and then became the deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asia (1985-86).He was the U. S. ambassador to Korea (1986-89) and to China (1989-91), and assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs (1991-93). From 1993 to 2006, he worked at the American Enterprise Institute, where he edited six books on the Chinese military. In 2004 he wrote China Hands, a reflection on his life and career.

J. Stapleton Roy: Roy retired from the Foreign Service in January 2001 after a career spanning 45 years wth the U.S. Department of State. A fluent Chinese speaker, Ambassador Roy spent much of his career in East Asia, where his assignments included Bangkok (twice), Hong Kong, Taipei, Beijing (twice), Singapore, and Jakarta. He also specialized in Soviet affairs and served in Moscow at the height of the Cold War. Mr. Roy rose to become a three-time ambassador, serving as the top U.S. envoy in Singapore (1984-86), the People’s Republic of China (1991-95), and Indonesia (1996-99). In 1996, he was promoted to the rank of Career Ambassador, the highest rank in the Foreign Service. Ambassador Roy’s final post with the State Department was as assistant secretary for Intelligence and Research. In September 2008, he joined the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars as director of the Kissinger Institute on China and the United States. He continues in his position as senior adviser to Kissinger Associates, Inc., which he joined in January 2001. Ambassador Roy was born in Nanjing, China of American missionary parents.

James R. Sasser: Sasser practiced law in Nashville until elected to the United States Senate in 1976, where he served for 18 years. Upon leaving the Senate he became a fellow at the Kennedy School at Harvard University, which ended with his appointment as ambassador to the People’s Republic of China in 1996. He served in that capacity for almost four years, playing a pivotal role in stabilizing Sino-American relations and traveling with President Jiang Zemin on his historic State visit to the United States in 1997. Sasser is currently a senior advisor to the FedEx Corporation and a senior counselor to APCO Worldwide in Washington, DC. He has served as a consultant to other U.S. corporation doing business in China, including the Ford Motor Company, the former Unocal Corporation and Brown-Forman Corporation.

Joseph Prueher: Prueher is a consulting professor at Stanford University’s Institute of International Studies and senior advisor on The Preventive Defense Project. He served as ambassador to the People’s Republic of China from 1999 to 2001 after completing thirty-five years in the United States navy. His last command was Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Pacific Command. Prior to that, he served as commandant at the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis.






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