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Foreign and Japanese ambassadors stranded by the new coronavirus

  • May 13, 2020
  • , Asahi , p. 4
  • JMH Translation

The global pandemic is preventing top diplomats arrived in Japan from presenting their credentials to the Emperor. There are currently five ambassadors who are already in Japan and going about their duties although their status has remained “next ambassador.” Across-the-border transfers of Japanese diplomats have been delayed after official transfer announcements. Those affected include ambassadors who have been unable to leave Japan for their destination countries.


The Ceremony of Presentation of Credentials for ambassadors from Tonga and Rwanda was originally scheduled for April 9. It was cancelled by the Imperial Household Agency the day before. Grand Steward Yasuhiko Nishimura explained to the press: “The new ambassadors and the Emperor would shake hands and converse during the ceremony. Many spectators would gather to see horse-drawn carriages arriving at the Imperial Palace. In light of the declaration of the state of emergency, it would be inappropriate to hold the ceremony.”


East Timor, Mali, and Tanzania are also waiting for their new ambassadors to have an opportunity to present their credentials. No date has been set so far. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA), the Japanese government formally recognizes “ambassadors extraordinary and plenipotentiary” only after they present credentials from heads of their states to the Emperor. However, they have submitted a copy of the credentials to MOFA and are already performing their duties in the capacity of “the next ambassador.”


Meanwhile, MOFA personnel transfers have been affected by the global pandemic as well. Japanese ambassadors to Chile and Burkina Faso were approved in the Cabinet meeting on April 17. But the Ceremony of Appointment of Official with Imperial Attestation at the Imperial Palace scheduled for April 22 was cancelled. Instead, Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi handed out the letters of appointment in the Minister’s Office. To the new ambassadors who lost a chance to converse with the Emperor in person, Motegi reportedly said, “I’m sorry that you’ll only be meeting with me.” 


The certification of the ambassador by the Emperor, which is necessary for a new Japanese ambassador’s appointment, was done elsewhere, so they can leave for their destinations without the formal ceremony. However, a number of newly appointed Japanese ambassadors have remained in Japan, due to flight cancellations and bans on entering countries. According to a MOFA official, there are currently several dozen diplomats who are unable to leave Japan for assignments at embassies and consulates and another several dozen who cannot return to Japan. Among them are ambassadors. “So far, our operations haven’t been affected,” says a senior MOFA official. However, there is concern that the situation will have some impact on summer transfers.

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