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Japan calls ambassador back for day

By Li Xiaokun (China Daily)

08:15, July 16, 2012

Uichiro Niwa set for Beijing return amid tension over islands

Japan called its ambassador to China back on Sunday for discussions on simmering tension over islands in the East China Sea, requiring the envoy to "accurately convey" Tokyo's stance to Beijing.

The Japanese Foreign Ministry said Uichiro Niwa will return to Beijing on Monday, dismissing concerns that Tokyo wanted to remove the ambassador following his warning in June that Japan's plan to "nationalize" the Diaoyu Islands would endanger relations.

Calling back the ambassador may be an indication that Japan understands how serious the situation is, analysts said.

They also pointed out the ambassador's return to Japan was aimed at gathering information and, "more and less", expressing Tokyo's dissatisfaction to Beijing.

Niwa left Beijing on Sunday morning, following an order from Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba.

He went to the Foreign Ministry immediately after arriving in Tokyo to report to Gemba on the situation in China concerning the Diaoyu Islands and discussed countermeasures, according to Japan's Kyodo News Agency.

Gemba told reporters after the meeting that he asked Niwa to return to Japan as "there are new trends" concerning the Diaoyu Islands.

The minister said he "instructed Niwa to accurately convey Japan's views'', adding they did not talk about whether to remove the ambassador during the meeting.

They also discussed activities planned in China to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the normalization of China-Japan diplomatic relations, the Kyodo report said.

"The Foreign Ministry claimed Niwa's return to Japan is not a 'recall' aimed at protesting against China. However, a temporary visit home, as a diplomatic convention, is often used as a countermeasure," Kyodo said.

Tension between China and Japan rose in April when Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara said that his city prefecture was negotiating with the "owner" of the Diaoyu Islands to "buy them by the end of the year" and started raising money for the proposal.

On July 7, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said his government was negotiating with a "private owner" to "nationalize" part of the Diaoyu Islands. The islands are in Chinese territorial waters.

Beijing responded firmly, and made repeated representations to Tokyo and sent fishery administration ships to patrol waters off the islands.

Tokyo decided to call back Niwa temporarily after Gemba met with Foreign Ministry Yang Jiechi in Cambodia on Wednesday on the sidelines of an ASEAN meeting.

According to Kyodo, the one-hour talks focused on the Diaoyu Islands but "ended without results due to deep differences".

It was the first ministerial talks between the two neighbors after Noda announced the plan to "nationalize" the islands.

Beijing said it will never allow anyone to buy or sell its territory, and will "continue to take necessary measures to resolutely safeguard its sovereignty over the islands''.

Tokyo's decision to call back its ambassador for an urgent meeting showed it has understood that Beijing is serious, said Zhou Yongsheng, a professor of Japanese studies at the China Foreign Affairs University in Beijing.

Calling back the ambassador might indicate "a new attitude by Japan on this issue, dropping its insistence on its own way, regardless of China," Zhou said.

The Japanese government even denies the existence of any dispute over the Diaoyu Islands, leaving no space to solve the dispute.

Zhou also said that calling Niwa home is not aimed at punishing the ambassador for his remarks in June.

The remarks drew harsh criticism from Japan and a warning from the Japanese Foreign Ministry, while some lawmakers even demanded that the ambassador be fired.

Niwa subsequently made a public apology.

Liu Jiangyong, a specialist on Japan studies with Tsinghua University, said Niwa's quick return to China means that Tokyo has decided to keep its ambassador in line with its Foreign Ministry, instead of hastily selecting a new candidate for the key position.

Niwa, a former chairman of Itochu, took the position as Japanese ambassador to China in July 2010.

Born in 1939, his appointment was unusual in that he came from commercial, rather than political, circles.

"People who have an insight into China-Japan relations all understand how serious the situation is, which means it is hard for the Japanese government to pick a really ideal candidate," Liu said.

And China is unlikely to accept a young nationalist ambassador who lacks political experience and will further complicate the situation, he said.

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