Sony Corp.’s charismatic chairman and chief executive officer, Nobuyuki Idei, has been tapped as the point man for galvanizing exchanges with China next year to mark 30 years of diplomatic ties between Japan and China.

According to sources, the government has informally asked Idei to head up a Japanese committee that will be established as early as autumn to implement various events. The sources said Idei has given the nod to the government request, although the appointment will not be announced until shortly before the committee is officially launched. The blue-ribbon committee will include many private-sector Japanese leaders, including top executives of other high-technology companies.

However, it is still unclear when the government would launch the committee, due to heightened tensions in Sino-Japanese relations over political and economic issues.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s visit Monday to Yasukuni Shrine drew fierce criticism not only at home but also from Japan’s Asian neighbors, especially China and South Korea. The shrine in Tokyo honors Japan’s war dead, including former Prime Minister Hideki Tojo and a number of Class-A war criminals.

Sino-Japanese ties have also been strained by two other disputes — one over Japanese education authorities’ approval of a controversial history textbook and another over Japan’s emergency import restrictions on some Chinese agricultural products.

China, South Korea and domestic critics claim the controversial textbook for junior high schools, which was approved in April, glosses over Japan’s wartime atrocities.

The Japanese import restrictions on Chinese stone leeks, shiitake mushrooms and rushes for traditional Japanese tatami floor mats, imposed in April, escalated into an unprecedented tit-for-tat trade war, with Beijing retaliating in June by slapping 100 percent punitive import tariffs on three key Japanese industrial goods — automobiles, mobile phones and air conditioners.

Japan’s bilateral diplomatic relationship with China began in 1972 when Tokyo severed ties with the then Nationalist-ruled Taiwan. Beijing still regards the island, now a flourishing democracy, as a renegade province that must be reunited with the mainland.

Japanese and Chinese leaders have designated 2002 — the 30th anniversary of the start of diplomatic ties — as “a year of exchange” in hopes of promoting friendship and improving relations. The Japanese committee to be chaired by Sony’s Idei will organize and implement various events for the exchange project. A similar committee is expected to be set up on the Chinese side, but this has been delayed, reflecting soured bilateral ties, the sources said.

Japan wants to hold a summit in October between Koizumi and Chinese President Jiang Zemin in Shanghai during the annual 21-member Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in hopes of reaching an agreement to improve relations.

If that agreement is reached, the committee to be chaired by Sony’s Idei is expected to be formally inaugurated soon afterward.

The sources said the government singled out Idei as the committee chairman for several reasons. One is that he belongs to a younger generation of business leaders who are expected to play a key role in developing friendly relations with China. Another is that the Sony boss has close and amiable ties with Koizumi.

A third reason is that while China is accelerating efforts to strengthen the international competitiveness of its industries, especially high technology, ahead of its entry into the World Trade Organization, Sony is a leading Japanese high-tech company and Idei is well known globally as an excellent business leader.

Another reason is that like many other Japanese and foreign companies with operations worldwide, Sony is believed to have a strong desire to capitalize on potentially huge business opportunities in China once the world’s most populous country — with more than 1.2 billion people — opens its markets wider to foreign competition to fulfill its obligations as a WTO member.

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