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China to replace longtime Tokyo envoy amid improving ties

  • April 3, 2019
  • , Nikkei Asian Review , 03:09 p.m.
  • English Press

TOKYO — China plans to replace its veteran ambassador to Japan, Cheng Yonghua, apparently a sign that Beijing believes bilateral ties are ready for a new envoy, it was learned Wednesday. 


Cheng has been seen by both sides as a steady hand in the often rocky bilateral relations. He has served in the post for nine years, the longest ever for a Chinese envoy.


Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Kong Xuanyou, a Japan expert, is believed to be a leading candidate to succeed Cheng. Kong is now deputy minister in charge of the Asia region, as well as Beijing’s special envoy on Korean peninsula issues. The new envoy will be responsible for Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Japan for the Group of 20 summit in Osaka in June. 


Cheng was one of the first Chinese students Beijing sent to Japan after the normalization of diplomatic ties in 1972. His career has centered on diplomatic relations with Asia, including an earlier stint at the embassy in Tokyo.


As ambassador, Cheng has overseen one of the most turbulent periods in bilateral ties. In September 2010, just months after he took up the post, relations between the two countries were rocked by a ramming incident involving a Japanese patrol boat and a Chinese fishing vessel near the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. It was followed by massive anti-Japanese demonstrations in China in 2012, in response to Japan’s nationalization of the Senkaku Islands.


China moved to patch up the ties after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe came into power in late 2012. The improvement gained momentum as China faced more difficulty dealing with the U.S. on a trade front under President Donald Trump.


Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping resumed bilateral top-level dialogue in 2014. China’s Prime Minister Li Keqiang made the first visit to Japan in seven years last year. 

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