Envoys to Greece, China tapped from business


A former top executive of Nomura Securities Co. will become ambassador to Greece, the government announced Tuesday, on the heels of its appointment of an adviser to trading house Itochu Corp. as the next envoy to China.

Taking the Athens portfolio will be Hiroshi Toda, a former vice chairman at Nomura, the nation’s top brokerage. Uichiro Niwa of Itochu Corp. was earlier named to head up the Beijing mission.

The Foreign Ministry said it made the rare decision to give private-sector business executives ambassadorial posts in major countries with the hope they will use their expertise to maintain good relations.

According to Nomura and the Foreign Ministry, this is the first time an ambassador has been appointed from a securities house, and both appointees are the first nongovernmental figures, at least in the postwar era, to be tapped as ambassadors to China and Greece.

Toda served as Nomura’s bond market chief from 1993 to 1996 and chief operating officer from 2003 to 2006. His tasks will include monitoring the turbulent financial crisis in Europe stemming from Greece’s debt woes.

Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada said the ministry started considering Toda’s appointment two months ago, and the announcement was not timed specifically with the financial crisis in Greece.

“Attention has been pinned on Greece, but it was just a coincidence,” Okada said.

He said Niwa was chosen because of his qualifications and knowledge of China.

“China is an extremely important country to Japan and I believe Niwa will play a large role,” Okada said. “It is not an exaggeration to say he may be the touchstone of whether ambassadors from the private sector will become (an) established (trend).”

Okada brushed off concern that Niwa’s ties with Itochu could affect relations between the embassy and other trading houses.

Niwa “was the president and chairman of Itochu, but he completely severed that relationship,” Okada said. “If not, Niwa would not be able to take on the role of ambassador. There may be some people who (express concern), but if that were the case, we wouldn’t be able to appoint civilians as ambassadors.”

The appointments take effect Thursday.

While analysts and government leaders say current Japan-China relations are good, Niwa will have to deal with several contentious issues, including over the hoped-for joint drilling for natural gas in the East China Sea, the territorial dispute over the uninhabited, Japan-controlled Senkaku Islands and China’s repeated naval activities near Japan.

The government also named Ambassador to Canada Tsuneo Nishida as ambassador to the United Nations; Shigekazu Sato, consul general of Hong Kong, as ambassador to Australia; and Kaoru Ishikawa, ambassador to Egypt, as the envoy to Canada and the Montreal-based International Civil Aviation Organization. Replacing Ishikawa in Cairo will be Norihiro Okuda, Japan’s envoy to the U.N., and Ambassador to Kuwait Masatoshi Muto will become the new ambassador to South Korea.

According to a Foreign Ministry official, out of Japan’s 141 ambassadors worldwide, there are currently seven nongovernmental appointees, including the envoys to Botswana, Romania, Bulgaria and Rwanda.

There have been 34 postwar ambassadors not picked from the civil service, the official added.