• Kyodo

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Career diplomat Masato Kitera, currently assistant chief Cabinet secretary, will be dispatched to Beijing in late December as Japan’s new ambassador to China, according to government sources.

The Cabinet will formally announce Kitera’s appointment this week, having already obtained China’s approval in accordance with diplomatic protocol, the sources said. Kitera will be tasked with improving bilateral relations amid the bitter Senkaku Islands row.

Japan’s current ambassador to China, Uichiro Niwa, is slated to return home in late November. Hidehisa Horinouchi, minister at the Japanese Embassy in Beijing, will serve as acting ambassador until Kitera’s arrival.

Kitera joined the Foreign Ministry in 1976. He has never been posted to China and does not belong to the “China school” group of diplomats trained to speak Mandarin and handle ties with Beijing, but for roughly two years from 1991 he was deputy chief of the ministry’s China and Mongolia Division.

After serving as director general of the ministry’s International Cooperation Bureau and deputy vice foreign minister in charge of the ministry chief’s secretariat, Kitera was appointed assistant chief Cabinet secretary Sept. 11 — the same day Japan nationalized three of the main Senkaku islets, enraging China and sending tensions in the East China Sea soaring.

The government had originally planned to replace Niwa in mid-September with Shinichi Nishimiya, but he collapsed and died of heart failure near his Tokyo home only two days after being appointed as the new ambassador to China.

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