Foul play ruled out in death of envoy-designate to China

TOKYO - Japan's next envoy to China, who collapsed just days after his appointment last week, has died in a Tokyo hospital.

Mr Shinichi Nishimiya, 60, fell unconscious on a Tokyo street on his way to work last Friday, three days after he was named to the post. He had planned to leave for Beijing next month.

He died yesterday in hospital without regaining consciousness.

Reports suggested exhaustion as a possible cause.

Japanese officials ruled out foul play, and said his death was not linked to growing anti-Japanese protests in China over the disputed Senkaku Islands, which the Chinese call Diaoyu.

Japan had hoped that the veteran diplomat's experience would help improve steadily deteriorating ties with China.

The search is on for a replacement for current ambassador Uichiro Niwa.

The protests erupted and spread following Tokyo's decision to buy three of the islands from the owner and bring them under state control.

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda reiterated on television yesterday that the purchase of the islands was "for the purpose of maintaining and managing the islands in a quiet and stable manner".

But experts said that the timing of his decision could not have been worse, coming just after Chinese President Hu Jintao had urged him during a meeting to refrain from buying the islands, and ahead of a major leadership change in China.

The anti-Japanese demonstrations and damage inflicted on Japanese businesses in China are the worst since the two countries normalised ties in 1972.

"Most of the rioters are apparently young Chinese who had received anti-Japanese education, and also do not belong to the more economically better-off classes," said China scholar, Professor Koichi Sato, of the J.F. Oberlin University in Tokyo.

Tourism has already been hit, with Chinese travel agencies cancelling tours to Japan.

wengkin@sph.com.sg