Beijing (China Daily/ANN) - Japan appointed Shinichi Nishimiya to replace Uichiro Niwa as the new ambassador to China amid escalating tensions between the two neighbours over the Diaoyu Islands (known in Japan as Senkaku Islands) in the East China Sea.
The appointment was confirmed during a Japanese government Cabinet meeting yesterday morning. The Cabinet also appointed Koro Bessho, 59, as ambassador to the South Korea and Kenichiro Sasae, 60, as ambassador to the United States.
Shinichi Nishimiya had been deputy minister in charge of economic affairs since 2011.
Unlike Niwa, who is Japan's first envoy to China from the private sector, Nishimiya is a typical diplomat of Japan's bureaucratic style of governance.
According to the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the 60-year-old diplomat graduated from the University of Tokyo with a bachelor's degree in law and joined the ministry in 1976.
Nishimiya has worked at the Japanese embassies in Washington, Moscow and London. From 2005 to 2006, he served as a minister at the Japanese embassy in Beijing.
He also served as the director-general of the North American Affairs Bureau in Tokyo and consul-general of Japan in New York.
Observers said Nishimiya's appointment is "no more than a gesture", although it has been reported that the Japanese government expects the reshuffle to warm Tokyo's chilling relations with neighbouring countries over island disputes.
Shen Shishun, an expert on Asia-Pacific studies at the Haikou College of Economics in Hainan province, said Japan replaced the ambassadors to "make a gesture".
"Japan is only making a gesture that is useless to solve island disputes," he said, adding that Japan changed personnel but "not its position on sovereignty claims [over the disputed islands]."
Nishimiya, as Japan's top diplomat in China, is regarded as friendly to Beijing. In 2005, he said China's rapid development didn't pose a threat to Japan, but instead brought opportunities.
Liu Qing, a research associate at the China Institute of International Studies, said that a pro-China ambassador weighs "more on form than on substance."
"Japan chooses this moment to replace ambassadors because it wants to disperse pressure caused by the current diplomatic dilemma. Since the Japanese government fuelled tensions with China over the Diaoyu Islands, I see more empty talks than substance in the new appointment," he said.
"Japan has caused the loss of mutual trust with China. It will not be easily repaired by moves such as 'fine-tuning'. It will take generations to achieve that goal."
Japanese media viewed Niwa's replacement as a failed effort by the Democratic Party of Japan to break the "bureaucrat-led style of governance".
"It is a pity the Noda administration did not give its full support to Niwa," Asahi Shimbun said.
The Japanese newspaper said a non-diplomat envoy like Niwa would obviously think and speak differently from foreign ministry officials and "even tell the government what it may not want to hear".
"Niwa's recall is a disguised form of punishment," said Gao Hong, deputy director of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences' Institute of Japanese Studies.
Niwa warned in an interview with the Financial Times that Tokyo metropolitan government's "purchase plan" would cause "a grave crisis in Japan-China relations".
His remarks strongly displeased Japan's right-wing politicians, and he was heavily criticised by both the ruling and opposition parties.
Gao said it has been difficult for Niwa to serve as ambassador to China in such "troubled times" for both countries.