Diaoyu Islands

Japan appoints Shinichi Nishimiya as new ambassador to China

Tokyo moves to replace incumbent with career diplomat known for his 'stubborn character' in dealing with Chinese officials

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 12 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 12 September, 2012, 9:43am


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Career diplomat Shinichi Nishimiya will replace Uichiro Niwa as Japan's ambassador to China, Tokyo announced yesterday.

Niwa, 73, the first private-sector appointee to become ambassador to China, has been criticised in Japan for his perceived pro-China stance on a territorial dispute in the East China Sea.

Nishimiya's appointment is being seen as a setback to Tokyo's efforts to break with a tradition of bureaucrat-led governance.

Japanese media reported that Nishimiya, 60, was expected to become ambassador next month or later, even though such changeovers traditionally happen in mid-September.

Niwa will stay on longer because September 29 marks the 40th anniversary of the normalisation of diplomatic relations between Japan and China and because China's ruling Communist Party is preparing for a once-in-a-decade leadership transition.

Nishimiya, the head of the Japanese foreign ministry's North American affairs bureau, graduated from the prestigious Tokyo University law school.

He is not believed to be an expert in Chinese affairs - unlike most previous Japanese ambassadors to China - though he spent a year and a half working at the Japanese embassy in Beijing from August 2005.

Mainichi Shimbun said Nishimiya was famous for his "stubborn character" in dealing with Chinese officials.

Niwa, previously an adviser to a top Japanese trading company, was criticised in Japan in June after he told the Financial Times that Tokyo municipal government's proposal to buy disputed islands in the East China Sea - known as the Diaoyus in China and the Senkakus in Japan - could cause an "extremely grave crisis" between the countries.

His perspective clashed with that of members of Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda's cabinet, and opposition parties accused him of focusing too much on economic ties.

Niwa has also encountered strong nationalist sentiment on the mainland. A Japanese flag was ripped from his car in Beijing last month following protests sparked by visits to the islands by activists from both countries.

Tokyo yesterday approved a plan for the national government to buy the islands from a private owner for 2.05 billion yen (HK$203.2 million). China has strongly denounced the move.

Professor Liang Yunxiang , an international relations specialist at Peking University, said: "The relationship between the two nations is largely dependent on their economic interests and domestic political circumstances. It has very little to do with a new ambassador.

"It is very important for the leaders of the two countries to have mutual trust."

Japan's relations with South Korea have also deteriorated significantly in recent months because of a territorial dispute.

Japan's foreign minister announced yesterday that Koro Bessho, 59, would become the new ambassador to South Korea, replacing Masatoshi Muto.