Japan plans to replace Uichiro Niwa, the ambassador to China who was criticized for his comments about the Senkaku Islands, ending the tenure of the nation’s first envoy to China from the private sector.
The move in autumn will deal a setback to the government’s efforts to break the bureaucrat-led style of governance. Shinichi Nishimiya, 60, deputy minister for foreign affairs, is expected to succeed Niwa, 73.
The government also plans to replace its ambassadors to the United States and South Korea.
A personnel reshuffle of top Foreign Ministry officials and key ambassadors is scheduled for mid-September.
But the replacement of Niwa is expected in October or later because Sept. 29 will mark the 40th anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic relations between Japan and China, and a leadership reshuffle in the Chinese Communist Party will take place in fall.
Deputy Prime Minister Katsuya Okada was foreign minister in the Naoto Kan administration and was largely behind the June 2010 appointment of Niwa, previously an adviser for trading house Itochu Corp.
The government expected the former businessman to promote economic diplomacy with China. But Niwa got caught up in the contentious diplomatic feud between the two countries after a Chinese fishing boat rammed Japan Coast Guard vessels off the disputed Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea in September 2010.
In June this year, Niwa, who is known for his pro-China stance, said the Tokyo metropolitan government’s plan to buy some of the Senkaku Islands would cause a “grave crisis” in Japan-China relations.
The Japanese government ordered Niwa to accurately reflect its stance--that the islands the Chinese call Diaoyu are Japanese territory. But calls persisted inside and outside the government for Niwa’s ouster.
Nishimiya was North American affairs bureau chief at the Foreign Ministry and held other ministry posts before taking his current position in January last year. Although Nishimiya is not an expert in Chinese affairs, he served as an envoy to China from August 2005.
Japan’s relations with its neighbors have rapidly deteriorated recently over territorial disputes and Cabinet members’ visit to war-related Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo.
To improve ties, including those with Washington, the Noda administration plans to promote more experienced people in diplomacy.
Kenichiro Sasae, 60, vice minister for foreign affairs, will take over from Ichiro Fujisaki, 65, as ambassador to the United States. Ambassador to South Korea Masatoshi Muto, 63, will be replaced by Koro Bessho, 59, deputy minister for foreign affairs.
The government is expected to officially decide on the personnel changes at a Cabinet meeting after the current Diet session closes on Sept. 8.
Chikao Kawai, 59, assistant chief Cabinet secretary, who has wide connections in political circles, is expected to take over Sasae's post as vice minister.
After serving as assistant chief Cabinet secretary in the government of Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda and then deputy vice foreign minister, Kawai was reappointed as assistant chief Cabinet secretary in the Yukio Hatoyama administration in January 2010.
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