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Japan to appoint ex-head of US affairs as new envoy to S. Korea

Koji Tomita (Kyodo)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- The Japanese government plans to appoint the former head of the Foreign Ministry's North American Affairs Bureau as its new ambassador to South Korea, diplomatic sources said Wednesday, a move that comes amid heightened tensions between the neighboring countries over wartime history and trade policy.

Koji Tomita, 61, is set to replace Yasumasa Nagamine, with Tokyo having already notified Seoul of his appointment and awaiting approval, according to the sources.

A career diplomat, Tomita worked at the embassy to South Korea from 2004. He was ambassador to Israel from 2015 to 2018 and served as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's "sherpa" for the Group of 20 summit in Osaka.

According to officials at the Foreign Ministry, he is the son-in-law of the late author Yukio Mishima.

Nagamine, 65, will leave the post after a three-year stint which saw the historic impeachment of President Park Geun Hye and the rise to power of her successor Moon Jae In.

In 2017, Nagamine was called back to Japan for several months to protest the placement of a statue representing South Korean women forced to work in Japanese military brothels during World War II in front of the consulate-general in the southeastern city of Busan.

The "comfort women" issue as well as disagreement over the need to compensate South Koreans who say they were forced to work in Japanese factories during Japan's colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula from 1910 to 1945 continue to weigh on bilateral ties.

In recent months, the countries have unveiled tighter export controls against each other, raising concerns that the diplomatic tensions are spilling over into the economic realm.

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