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Finance

Japan replaces financial watchdog chief with eyes on Hong Kong

Battle-tested at Basel, Himino tasked with luring businesses to Tokyo

Ryozo Himino, vice minister for international affairs at the Financial Services Agency, will take the top post at Japan's financial watchdog. (Nikkei collage/source photos by Takanori Okabe and Rie Ishii)

TOKYO -- The Financial Services Agency has tapped a veteran regulator who honed his skills on the international arena as its next chief as Japan sees an opportunity to lure business in Hong Kong's struggle.

Ryozo Himino, vice minister for international affairs at the FSA, will be promoted to commissioner Monday while current Commissioner Toshihide Endo will step down under personnel changes announced Tuesday.

In 2003, Himino became the first Japanese secretary-general of the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision, the forum for crafting international rules for financial institutions. In the talks to draw up the Basel II rules, which wrapped up in 2004 while Japan was experiencing a financial crisis, Himino successfully negotiated for conditions palatable to Japanese banks struggling to stay afloat.

Himino's ironclad rule for international negotiations is simplification. He tries to boil down his talking points into one single phrase. But this is no easy task. He carefully chooses the right words that can convince others after doing thorough research. Through such meticulous preparations, he gets his counterparts to listen to him and eventually wins them over. 

Himino's skills on the global stage will be quickly put to the test as Japan seeks to position itself as an alternative to Hong Kong, whose status as a financial hub has been shaken by China's imposition of a national security law on the city. The Japanese financial sector is counting on Himino's experience in international negotiations.

The biggest challenge, however, remains dealing with the coronavirus pandemic. With regional economies having taken a severe hit, it is imperative for banks to provide financing support to local businesses. But financial institutions would weaken if the pandemic drags on for months. Himino will oversee the task of drawing up a plan for supporting companies over the medium to long term while keeping the financial system healthy.

The FSA also needs to quickly offer financial services that match the needs of the digital age as consumers seek easy-to-use online services for such tasks as sending money, making payments and buying products. Calls are growing for Japan to loosen its financial regulations to improve convenience for consumers.

Himino is expected to remain chair of the Standing Committee on Supervisory and Regulatory Cooperation at the Financial Stability Board, a title he obtained in 2019.

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