The 64-year-old, currently Japan’s envoy to Indonesia, will replace Hideo Tarumi, 62, who took up his post in November 2020 and was perceived as having a tough stance against China.
Kanasugi, whose career spans four decades, is Japan’s first ambassador to Beijing in seven years who was not trained in the foreign ministry’s “China School”, where diplomats are taught the language and other skills to advance bilateral ties.
After graduating in law from Hitotsubashi University, Kanasugi held a number of high-level positions, including director general of the economic affairs bureau and the Asian and Oceanian affairs bureau, as well as senior deputy minister for foreign affairs.
His appointment comes at a time of division between Beijing and Tokyo over Japan’s continuing release of treated radioactive waste water into the Pacific Ocean from the Fukushima nuclear plant, which started in late August.
But according to Andy Mok, a senior research fellow at Beijing-based think tank the Centre for China and Globalisation, Kanasugi’s arrival should not be “over-interpreted”.
“While they are notable figures, ambassadors mainly carry out the policy decisions made back in their home countries, and their appointments alone may not signal major policy changes,” Mok said.
As well as being the most vocal critic of the Fukushima discharges, Beijing has also been locked in a long-standing territorial dispute with Tokyo over the Diaoyu Islands, known in Japan as the Senkaku Islands.
Last week China and Japan each made contradictory claims about vessels illegally entering each other’s territory. The latest dispute began on Monday, with both countries’ coastguards reporting incidents.
China coastguard spokesman Gan Yu said a Japanese vessel and several boats entered China’s territorial waters around the Diaoyu Islands. Chinese vessels took lawful measures and warned the Japanese boats, he said.
On the same day, Japan’s coastguard reported that two vessels from its Chinese counterpart entered Japanese territorial waters off the islands and were warned not to approach Japanese fishing boats.
The Asian neighbours are also in talks to revive the annual China-Japan-South Korea summit, suspended since its 2019 meeting in Chengdu because of the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as friction between Seoul and Tokyo over historical issues.
According to the Chinese foreign ministry, assistant minister Nong Rong met his counterparts Chung Byung-won from South Korea and Japan’s Takehiro Funakoshi in September to discuss a “steady relaunch” of the event. No date was specified.
Kanasugi’s designation is one of a series of appointments, with former senior deputy foreign minister Shigeo Yamada heading to Washington as Tokyo’s ambassador there, while Russia expert Akira Muto is the new envoy to Moscow.
Kazuyuki Yamazaki, 62, who previously headed Japan’s mission to the international organisations in Geneva, was appointed as the country’s ambassador to the United Nations.