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The Foreign Ministry said Tuesday that Toshiyuki Takano, director general of the North American Affairs Bureau, will be removed from his post later this month, triggering speculation that he was axed over remarks to the Diet concerning the revised Japan-U.S. defense cooperation guidelines.

Takano, 54, will be replaced by Yukio Takeuchi, also 54 and the current head of the Treaties Bureau, ministry officials said. Takano will become chief of the ministry’s Foreign Service Training Institute.

The personnel reshuffle will be officially endorsed at the Cabinet meeting on July 28, the officials said. Takano assumed the post just a year ago. Normally, the director general of a Foreign Ministry bureau serves for two years.

Ministry officials explained later in the day that Takano is moving to the new post following completion of the revision of the defense guidelines.

The move comes as Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto prepares for his visit to the United States from July 21 to 25 for talks with President Bill Clinton.

Takano drew China’s ire when he told a Lower House committee session in May that the area covered by the revised defense guidelines would not exceed the Far East and surrounding areas. He was apparently going beyond earlier explanations made by other government officials that the scope of the guidelines — indicated as emergencies in “areas surrounding Japan” — is not targeted at any specific geographic regions.

Beijing lashed out against his statement, saying that it can be interpreted to mean emergencies in the Taiwan Strait may be covered by the defense cooperation guidelines.

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