Tokyo’s next ambassador to Beijing on Thursday played down concerns he might be too soft on China and said he will continue to put Japan’s interests first when he takes up his post April 10.

One reason for the attention on Yuji Miyamoto, 60, is his background as a member of the so-called China School — a group of Foreign Ministry officials who underwent Chinese language training to become specialists on the country.

Those officials have often been criticized for being soft on Japan’s biggest Asian rival, but Miyamoto said such criticism does not apply to him.

“I always keep in mind what is best for Japan. That’s my criteria” in diplomacy, he said in an interview with The Japan Times.

Miyamoto said he had always leveled with China, stressing he had never pulled his punches with Beijing in his long diplomatic career. The former head of the ministry’s China and Mongolia Division, he was named ambassador to Beijing on Feb. 24, an appointment that comes at a time when bilateral ties are at their worst in decades.

When asked about Beijing’s fury over Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s repeated visits to Yasukuni Shrine, Miyamoto said both sides needed to deepen their understanding of the issue.

He said the leaders of Japan and China should both “thoroughly examine” the cultural, religious and historical background of the issue and make efforts to explain it to their citizens.

Recently many lawmakers have criticized Japan’s official development assistance to China, given its rapidly growing economic and military might.

But Miyamoto argued that the ODA, which began in 1979, has been designed to “integrate” China into the international community by helping nurture a market economy, and to that end, he claimed, it has been a success.

“I think Japan’s ODA to China has basically played a positive role toward (strengthening) peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region,” he said.

But at the same time, a rethink of the assistance after the Chinese economy “took off” may have come late, Miyamoto admitted. Tokyo and Beijing have agreed to end new yen loans in 2008, when China hosts the Olympics.

Miyamoto also stressed he would like to strengthen Tokyo’s ability to deliver information and messages on Japan directly to the Chinese people by using the Internet and other new media.

“There has been a mechanism that has made it difficult for Japan to directly send messages to Chinese people,” said Miyamoto, obliquely referring to China’s state-controlled media. “I’d like to ask for cooperation from the Chinese authorities, too.”

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.