National / Politics

Japan to appoint former head of North American affairs as new envoy to South Korea

Kyodo, Staff Report

The government plans to appoint Koji Tomita, the former head of the Foreign Ministry’s North American Affairs Bureau, as its new ambassador to South Korea, diplomatic sources said Wednesday, amid heightened tensions between the neighboring countries over wartime history and trade policy.

Tomita, 61, is set to replace Yasumasa Nagamine. Tokyo has already notified Seoul of his appointment and is awaiting approval, according to the sources.

A career diplomat, Tomita worked at the Japanese Embassy in South Korea starting in 2004. He was ambassador to Israel from 2015 to 2018 and served as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s sherpa for the Group of 20 summit in Osaka this year.

According to officials at the Foreign Ministry, he is the son-in-law of the late author Yukio Mishima.

Nagamine, 65, will leave the post in Seoul after a three-year stint that spanned the historic impeachment of President Park Geun-hye and the rise to power of her successor, Moon Jae-in.

In 2017, Nagamine was called back to Japan for several months to protest the placement of a statue representing South Korean ‘comfort women’ who provided sex, including those who did so against their will, for Japanese troops before and during World War II. The statue was placed in front of the consulate-general in the southeastern city of Busan.

The comfort women issue and a disagreement over compensation for South Koreans forced to work in Japanese factories during Japan’s colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula from 1910 to 1945 have continued to weigh on bilateral ties.

In recent months the two countries have tightened export controls against one another, raising concerns that diplomatic tensions are spilling over into the economic realm.