Japanese envoy back in Beijing after Tokyo trip

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 17 July, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 17 July, 2012, 12:00am


Japan's ambassador to China returned to Beijing yesterday afternoon, dismissing concerns that Tokyo may have contemplated removing him because of his perceived pro-China stance.

Kyodo News Agency reported that Uichiro Niwa met Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba in Tokyo on Sunday afternoon to discuss the rising tensions over an East China Sea territorial dispute involving the Diaoyu Islands, which Japan calls the Senkaku Islands. Niwa was instructed to 'accurately convey' to Beijing that the islands are Japanese territory, the report said.

Gemba said after the meeting that he summoned Niwa home amid 'new trends' involving the disputed islands, and for a briefing on the current mindset among Chinese about Japan. He also dismissed speculation that the government planned to dismiss Niwa, amid calls by opposition parties for his resignation.

Japan's Foreign Ministry said Niwa's recall was simply a temporary return home, and was not meant to be a form of protest against China, after a Chinese state fisheries patrol ship entered Japanese-claimed waters near the islands last week. Gemba cautioned Niwa in June for saying in an interview with the Financial Times that a proposal by the Tokyo municipal government to buy the disputed islands could cause an 'extremely grave crisis' between Japan and China.

The islands are currently controlled by Japan, and Tokyo says they are privately owned by a Japanese. Despite fierce opposition from Beijing and Taipei, which both claim sovereignty over the islands, the Japanese government confirmed plans to buy three of the islands, after Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara announced in April that his local government intended to buy them.

A national survey released by Japan's Yomiuri newspaper yesterday found that 65 per cent of Japanese supported the government's planned purchase, with only 20 per cent opposed. The meeting on Sunday also discussed activities planned in China to commemorate the 40th anniversary of normalised diplomatic ties between the two countries.

In June 2010, Niwa became the first Japanese ambassador to China appointed from the private sector. Before assuming the role of ambassador, he was president of the Itochu Corporation, a Fortune 500 Japanese trading company. He has been widely criticised by domestic opposition parties for his economic-oriented China policy.