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Trump-Appointed US Ambassador to Thailand Quits Post

Ambassador Michael George DeSombre and Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha poses for photos at Government House in Bangkok on Jan. 19, 2021. Image: USAmbThailand / Twitter

BANGKOK — The U.S. Ambassador to Thailand appears to have left his post on Thursday after less than a year in office.

Michael George DeSombre, who was appointed by then-President Donald Trump in early 2020, announced his departure on the embassy’s official social media platform on Wednesday, moments after Joe Biden was formally inaugurated as the new U.S. President.

“It has been a privilege serving as the United States Ambassador to the Kingdom of Thailand,” DeSombre wrote. “I am exceedingly proud of all we have done to strengthen the US-Thai relationship. I am signing off now from this account and leaving it in the good hands of our Embassy staff.”

A day earlier, DeSombre also met with PM Prayut Chan-o-cha to “thank the Royal Thai Government” – as is habitual with departing ambassadors.

DeSombre was sworn into office as Trump’s political appointee on March 2, 2020, succeeding the previous ambassador, career diplomat Glyn Davies, who served as ambassador from Oct. 2015 to Sept. 2018.

It is common for politically appointed ambassadors to step down as a new U.S. administration steps in on Inauguration Day. Although it is possible for ambassadors to stay on for a short time, for reasons such as completing a child’s school term or dealing with family health issues, political appointees who serve as ambassadors rarely ask for such extension.

The U.S. Embassy official website now lists Chargé d’Affaires Michael Heath as its current diplomatic mission leader.

Like the president who appointed him, DeSombre had no previous experience in holding a public office. He worked as a partner in the law firm of Sullivan and Cromwell based in Hong Kong from 2004. He was also a 19-year member of the American Club in the southern Chinese city, according to an official bio

Ambassador Michael DeSombre speaks at a panel with Thai CEOs on Jan 21, 2021. Photo: USAmbThailand / Twitter

Shortly after taking his post, DeSombre raised eyebrows among the diplomatic circles by publishing a series of op-ed lambasting the Chinese government, from its handling of the coronavirus to alleged incursions in the South China Sea. The attacks were in line with the hawkish policy toward China mandated by the Trump administration.

In October, DeSombre also appeared to criticize Thailand’s strategy of imposing strict measures to contain the coronavirus, which he said results in widespread damage to the economy.

“The evidence over the last six months shows that the costs of a really extreme shutdown are generally worse than the benefits and it is better to keep the economy running,” the ambassador was quoted as saying on Oct. 2 – the same day Trump tested positive for the coronavirus. 

It is unclear when the new ambassador will be chosen by the Biden administration. Thailand and the U.S. established relations in 1818 and later formalized the ties in 1833.

Note: The article was amended to reflect the fact that politically appointed U.S. ambassadors installed by the incumbent President typically resign on Jan. 20, when the new administration is sworn in.

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