Envoy urged to quit for Senkaku flap


A former envoy to France has taken the rare step of urging Ambassador to China Uichiro Niwa to resign due to his vocal opposition to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government’s plan to buy some of the Senkaku Islands.

“Niwa is not the right person for the job in the current climate of strained relations between Japan and China,” Hiroshi Hirabayashi, vice president of the Japan Forum on International Relations, said in an editorial posted on the think tank’s website in late July.

Pressure has been growing for Niwa to step down after his comments in early June about the Japan-controlled islets in the East China Sea were slammed by both ruling and opposition camp lawmakers for allegedly harming Japan’s national interests. China and Taiwan claim the uninhabited islets.

Hirabayashi criticized Niwa, Japan’s first ambassador to China from the private sector, over his lack of prudence, noting he had expressed his views about the Senkaku Islands publicly and without the knowledge of the Foreign Ministry

Amid calls for Niwa’s resignation, China “will no longer trust him as an ambassador who speaks for the Japanese government,” Hirabayashi said, urging the former Itochu Corp. chairman to take “early retirement.”

The row erupted after Niwa voiced his opposition to Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara’s plan to purchase some of the islets from a Saitama businessman who holds title to them, saying in an interview with the Financial Times that the idea “will result in an extremely grave crisis in relations between Japan and China” if realized.

The central government later announced it is also seeking to purchase some of the isles, which are technically under the jurisdiction of Ishigaki, Okinawa, and currently leased from the private owners.

Niwa was briefly recalled to Tokyo in mid-July to discuss repeated intrusions by Chinese vessels into waters near the Senkakus with Foreign Minister Koichiro Genba. Following their talks, Genba told reporters he had instructed Niwa to explain Tokyo’s official stance to Beijing over the islets — that they are an integral part of Japanese territory and are not in dispute — and denied the government was planning to replace him.

Niwa was appointed ambassador to China in June 2010 by then Prime Minister Naoto Kan.