Japan picks Masato Kitera as ambassador to China

Ambassador chosen for mediating skills, NHK reports, amid military maneouvres

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 06 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 06 October, 2012, 10:24am

The Japanese government has picked as ambassador to China a career diplomat who nonetheless has little Chinese experience, to help ease escalating Sino-Japanese tensions.

Japanese broadcaster NHK and Kyodo news agency reported yesterday that Tokyo had picked Masato Kitera to replace its current ambassador Uichiro Niwa.

Kitera, 59, has extensive experience in Africa and Europe. After joining the Foreign Ministry in 1976, he became the director general for African affairs and served in Japanese missions in France, Geneva and Thailand. He became the assistant chief cabinet secretary last month.

Tokyo earlier announced plans to appoint Shinichi Nishimiya to replace Niwa, but Nishimiya died last month after collapsing on a Tokyo street. Kyodo News reported on Wednesday that Tokyo would extend Niwa's term for another month.

There are calls in Tokyo to appoint diplomats with expertise on China as the country's ambassador, but NHK reported that the government was having trouble finding the ideal candidate.

Tokyo chose Kitera because of his renowned mediating skills and the hope that he could improve Sino-Japanese ties, which have been pushed to their lowest point in more than two decades in a territorial row over the Diaoyu, or Senkaku, islands in the East China Sea, the broadcaster said.

Chinese analysts do not expect Kitera to have much success. "Naming someone who has no China experience simply tells us that Tokyo does not pay much attention to Sino-Japanese ties," said Zhou Yongsheng , a Japanese affairs expert at China Foreign Affairs University.

The news of Kitera's selection came as Beijing has stepped up military manoeuvres in the East and South China seas.

Ni Lexiong , director of a research institute on sea power and defence policy at the Shanghai University of Political Science and Law, said Beijing decided to step up military actions in response to recent US moves.

The USS George Washington carrier group has been operating in the East China Sea and the USS John C. Stennis carrier group is close to the South China Sea.

Meanwhile, the Tokyo District Public Prosecutor's Office said yesterday it had decided not to prosecute a formerly Tokyo-based Chinese diplomat, Li Chunguang , who was reportedly suspected of spying on Japanese military technology. Beijing had denied the claims.