Diplomatic Briefing

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Archive for Japan

Newsline: Recalled Japan ambassador returns to South Korea

Ambassador Yasumasa Nagamine returns to Seoul after being recalled almost three months ago in response to Korean civic groups erecting a statue of a girl symbolizing the sexual slavery victims in front of its consulate in the southern Korean port city of Busan. Yasumasa Nagamine was called back in January, in protest of a statue honoring the victims of Japan’s wartime sexual slavery set up by a civic group in Korea’s southeastern port city of Busan. Tokyo took the action because it felt the statue went against the spirit of the December 2015 bilateral agreement to provide support to Korean women forced to provide sex to Japanese military personnel before and during World War II. In returning the envoy, Japan has cited the need to engage with South Korea, which is in a transitional period ahead of the May 9 presidential election, and to coordinate with its neighbor in dealing with the North Korean nuclear threat. Japan has repeatedly called on South Korea to “resolve” the issue of the statues following the 2015 agreement. With the recall of the envoy, Japan also postponed bilateral economic dialogue and talks on a new currency swap with South Korea.


Newsline: South Korean ministers snub meeting with Japanese ambassador

Two South Korean cabinet members have declined to meet with Japanese Ambassador Yasumasa Nagamine, who recently returned to Seoul after a three-month recall, their ministries said Thursday. Unification Minister Hong Yong-pyo and Defense Minister Han Min-koo turned down Nagamine’s request, citing such reasons as scheduling conflicts. The Japanese envoy has also asked to meet with acting President Hwang Kyo-ahn. The government will make a thorough decision, a spokesperson for South Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs told reporters Thursday. But the odds seem slim, with the spokesperson also criticizing Nagamine for speaking publicly about his request to meet with a foreign leader before both sides had agreed to it. After arriving in Seoul on Tuesday, Nagamine said he wanted to meet with Hwang as soon as possible and urge him to affirm a commitment to a 2015 bilateral deal aimed at resolving the issue of wartime “comfort women.” South Korean media reported this comment as a breach of diplomatic protocol. Japan has called for the removal of a statue symbolizing comfort women near its embassy in Seoul, as well as another in front of its consulate in Busan. The latter had led Tokyo to temporarily recall Nagamine back in January. This has incensed the South Korean public. Most candidates in the presidential election scheduled for May 9 want to scrap or renegotiate the comfort women deal. The government is likely taking heed of such sentiment.


Newsline: China’s embassy pledges to protect Chinese trainees in Japan

The Chinese Embassy in Japan said it will continue to take strong measures to protect the legitimate rights of Chinese nationals working in Japan under the Japanese government-sponsored Technical Intern Training Program for foreigners. “The Chinese diplomatic and consular missions in Japan attach great importance to protecting Chinese technical trainees in Japan, and have carried out consular protection and assistance work through various channels and means,” the embassy told Xinhua. According to the Japanese Ministry of Justice, there were about 85,000 Chinese trainees in Japan last year under the program. Tokyo introduced the intern program in 1993. It claims the program is designed to bring in interns from developing countries and help them acquire technical skills they can bring back to their homelands to contribute to local economic development. Yet the system has been widely criticized as a platform to attract cheap labor from overseas to compensate for Japan’s manpower shortage without due measures to protect the rights of foreign workers. The Chinese embassy said it will increase contacts with related Japanese ministries to urge the Japanese side to take measures to protect the legal rights of Chinese interns.


Newsline: Student interns gain worldly experience at small embassies in Tokyo

Interest and participation have increased for an internship program that allows students to experience foreign countries without leaving Japan. Established in 2010, the University Student Chamber Japan (Unisc Japan) has been dispatching student interns to embassies and international organizations in Tokyo, where they gain work experience and learn about different cultures and languages in lieu of actual pay. Many embassies, particularly those of smaller nations, welcome the students. “It is a wonderful program,” an official of the Marshall Islands Embassy said at a recent internship briefing session. The most common job is translating Japanese newspaper and magazine articles. Some students have helped organizing events. Others have been asked to write reports on the Japanese political situation and even organized crime syndicates. Among the other diplomatic missions and groups that have accepted Unisc Japan’s student interns are the Embassy of the Federated States of Micronesia, the Kosovo Embassy, the Embassy of Honduras and the Swedish Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Japan.


Newsline: China state media urges clarity on Iceland envoy spy rumour

A state-run Chinese newspaper on Thursday called on Beijing to clarify rumours that its ambassador to Iceland has been held for leaking intelligence to Japan, throwing a rare official spotlight on such cases. The envoy, Ma Jisheng, left Iceland mysteriously in January and has not been replaced, with Beijing only telling Reykjavik that he was unable to return for “personal reasons”, according to the Icelandic foreign ministry. The Global Times, which is run by the ruling Communist Party’s mouthpiece the People’s Daily, urged Beijing to clear the air, citing the need to raise the awareness of espionage risks among the Chinese public. Few spying cases involving Chinese officials have been reported in the domestic media, it said. “In actuality, reporting such incidents will educate many people by letting them know how close those manipulators of overseas intelligence agencies are to us,” the newspaper said in an editorial. Hong Kong’s Ming Pao daily, citing US-based Chinese-language website Mingjing News, reported that Ma and his wife “were suspected of giving state secrets to Japan and were arrested (in early February) by the Ministry of State Security.” Ma was a high-ranking diplomat in Japan from 2004-08. The Chinese government has so far failed to shed light on Ma’s whereabouts and a foreign ministry spokesman on Wednesday told reporters: “I have no information on this”.


Newsline: Chinese ambassador to Iceland arrested for spying for Japan

Chinese Ambassador to Iceland Ma Jisheng and his wife Zhong Yue have been arrested by Chinese authorities for allegedly spying for Japan, Hong Kong’s Ming Pao Daily reported Wednesday. “According to a Chinese official, the Chinese ambassador and his wife were accused of spying for Japan, and were arrested by China’s national security authorities in early 2014,” the Chinese-language newspaper reported, quoting the U.S.-based Mingjingnews. The Chinese Foreign Ministry has yet to confirm the report. The website of the Chinese Embassy in Iceland still carries Ma’s past remarks and speeches, including ones that condemn Japan’s past atrocities and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to the war-related Yasukuni Shrine. Iceland’s English-language Reykjavik Grapevine magazine reported on its website earlier this month that Ma left Iceland on Jan. 23 and was expected to return in March. Urour Gunnarsdottir, a spokeswoman for the Icelandic Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told reporters that the Chinese Foreign Ministry informed them in May that Ma would not be returning. Ma worked as secretary at the Chinese Embassy in Japan between 1991 and 1995, and as commissar between 2004 and 2008. He returned to China and became deputy director of information in the Foreign Ministry before assuming the ambassadorship to Iceland in 2012, according to the report.


Newsline: China may be holding former high-ranking diplomat at embassy in Tokyo

Chinese authorities may be holding a former minister-counselor at the embassy in Tokyo on suspicion of leaking information to Japan, informed sources said. The 54-year-old former embassy official has not been heard from for a while, the Chinese sources said, adding he appears to be under investigation. As a senior member of the Chinese Embassy, he started meeting ranking Diet members from the Liberal Democratic Party, New Komeito and other parties in 2010, and developed a wide range of contacts in the Japanese political world. After returning home last October, he joined the Communist Party of China’s Central Party School for leadership training but has been unaccounted for since spring. The investigating authorities are believed to be looking into whether there were any shady relations between the diplomat and politicians and other people he met in Japan, at a time when relations between the two countries are in tatters due to thorny issues over history and control of the Senkaku Islands.