Japan to pick diplomat as China envoy: reports

Posted at 10/06/2012 12:16 PM | Updated as of 10/06/2012 12:16 PM

TOKYO - Japan will name a career diplomat as its ambassador to China -- with the neighbors in a bitter territorial row -- after the newly appointed envoy fell ill and died last month, reports said Saturday.

Masato Kitera, 59, will be chosen to succeed Uichiro Niwa next month and become Tokyo's point man in the dispute over an island chain in the East China Sea, Japanese dailies Asahi, Yomiuri and others reported.

Japan initially picked Shinichi Nishimiya, another career diplomat, for the post but before he could take up the role he fell ill in a Tokyo street last month and was taken to hospital, dying a few days later.

The death had "nothing to do with any accident or anti-Japanese demonstrations" in China, a foreign ministry official has told AFP.

Kitera, now an aide to the prime minister's office, served as the secretary general for African affairs at Japan's foreign ministry and led a Japan-UN joint African aid conference in 2008.

He has also had a stint in the ministry's China section.

Niwa, his predecessor in Beijing, raised hackles at home when he said a plan by Tokyo's nationalist governor to buy the islands could cause a crisis between China and Japan, jeopardizing economic ties.

Japan administers the chain and calls them Senkaku, but China claims them under the name Diaoyu.

Anti-Japanese demonstrations in China have forced Japanese firms to scale back their operations in the country, and for weeks Chinese government ships have been plying the waters near the islands.

IMF chief Christine Lagarde said this week the shaky global economy needs Japan and China to be fully engaged, warning the world could not afford to have the two distracted by the dispute.

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