Japanese envoy to China recalled

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 15 July, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 15 July, 2012, 12:00am

Japan will today recall its ambassador to China, Uichiro Niwa, temporarily to discuss how to respond to recent developments concerning the disputed Diaoyu Islands, Japan's foreign minister, Koichiro Gemba, was quoted as saying yesterday.

Gemba was speaking in Hanoi, Japan's Kyodo news agency said.

The news came a day after Niwa cancelled a six-day visit this week to China's northwest amid rising tension over the islands, which Japan calls the Senkakus.

Gemba denied the plan was meant as a protest against China. He said the ambassador would be sent back to Beijing soon.

Chinese analysts, though, speculated that Niwa could lose his job.

'Since the contract of Niwa as Chinese ambassador will be up soon, it's likely that Tokyo is now considering replacing him,' said Liu Jiangyong, a professor of international relations at Tsinghua University.

Liu said such a move would only add uncertainty to already turbulent Sino-Japanese relations.

Analysts saw Tokyo's unusual move as a sign of escalating tension between the two countries, and of discord between Niwa and the Japanese administration over its proposal to buy four of the Diaoyu islands from their private Japanese owner.

Niwa caused a clamour in Japan after he told Britain's Financial Times last month that a plan by the Tokyo municipal government to buy the islands could cause 'an extremely grave crisis' in Sino-Japanese relations. He had to apologise after he was cautioned by the Japanese Foreign Ministry, which said Niwa 'was expressing his personal opinion'.

Tensions between the countries rose last week after Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said his government was negotiating to buy the islands, having apparently taken its cue from the hawkish Tokyo administration. Chinese media carried prominent reports about patrol ships encountering Japanese navy ships near the Diaoyu Islands and quoted Beijing as saying it would take 'necessary measures' to safeguard Chinese sovereignty.

Xinhua last night reported that the three Fishery Administration Bureau patrol ships had returned to base, but would continue to 'inspect Chinese waters'.

People's Daily's overseas edition yesterday ran a stern commentary warning Japan, the Philippines and Vietnam of 'setbacks' should they continue to provoke China in the South and East China seas.

Liu, the analyst, said: 'If Tokyo decides to replace Niwa, it means the impact of right-wing forces in Japan is overriding the ruling Japan Democratic Party and other major political parties. That would definitely harm the development of Sino-Japanese relations.'

Jiang Lifeng, a former director of the Institute of Japanese Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said the temporary recall of Niwa was a sign that relations between Tokyo and Beijing were becoming more complicated.

'Niwa is well-known for his Beijing-friendly attitude, so his recall is definitely related to the Diaoyus dispute,' Jiang said, noting that Japanese right-wingers had called for Niwa's dismissal.

Niwa was president and chief executive officer of the giant Itochu Corporation before he was appointed ambassador to China by former prime minister Naoto Kan two years ago.


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