U.S., China, S. Korea get new envoys

New diplomatic blood injected amid friction over long-term beefs

Kyodo

The government plans to concurrently replace its ambassadors to the United States, China and South Korea in a move aimed at restructuring diplomatic ties amid a series of tough negotiations and territorial disputes, sources said Monday.

Vice Foreign Minister Kenichiro Sasae will replace Ichiro Fujisaki as ambassador to the United States, while Deputy Foreign Minister Shinichi Nishimiya will get the China portfolio and colleague Koro Bessho will be appointed envoy to South Korea, the sources said.

The appointments are expected to be finalized after the regular Diet session ends Sept. 8, they said.

The appointment of Sasae, the Foreign Ministry’s top bureaucrat, comes at a time Japan and the United States face pending points of public contention, particularly the relocation of the operations of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Okinawa, on which no progress has been made, and the U.S. military’s plan to deploy the controversial MV-22 Osprey transport aircraft to the base.

The replacement of Uichiro Niwa, the first Japanese ambassador to China to come from the private sector, follows contentious remarks he made on the Japanese-administered Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. The islets are also claimed by China and Taiwan.

Niwa, a former chairman of the major trading house Itochu Corp., assumed the post in June 2010 in a move highlighting the Democratic Party of Japan’s goal of attaching importance on limiting the power of bureaucrats, while promoting business-oriented diplomacy.

Pressure has been building to replace Niwa since his remarks in an interview with the Financial Times in June in which he voiced opposition to Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara’s plan for the metropolitan government to purchase some of the uninhabited Senkaku islets.

Meanwhile, ties between Japan and South Korea have worsened considerably since South Korean President Lee Myung Bak’s unprecedented visit to a group of islets that both countries lay claim to in the Sea of Japan, which South Korea calls the East Sea. Japan has recalled Ambassador to South Korea Masatoshi Muto to protest Lee’s visit to Dokdo, which the South controls and Japan calls Takeshima.