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First Foreigner to Head Sony Will Not Be Based in Japan

Howard Stringer, the head of Sony's U.S. operations, will succeed Nobuyuki Idei as chairman and chief executive officer. He is the first non-Japanese to head the consumer electronics giant in its 59-year history.

Mr. Stringer says the change results not from a crisis but from an evolution, building on what the current management has already done. "We will work on a plan to quickly accelerate change," he said. "Our team will not hesitate to make tough decisions to make Sony the strongest electronics, entertainment and technology company it can be."

Mr. Stringer, who is both a British and a U.S. citizen, says he has no plans to move to Tokyo. He currently splits his time between an office in New York and a home in London, and says he will keep in touch with Sony executives via video-conferencing and frequent meetings in New York and Tokyo.

While hostile takeovers are routine in the West, they are rare in Japan, and likely to stay that way. A battle by an upstart Internet company to gain control of a radio network has prompted some politicians to push for legislation to make it harder to take over a company by regulating stock transactions outside regular trading hours.

Internet portal operator Livedoor used such a maneuver to acquire a large chunk of stock in Nippon Broadcasting, setting off a national debate on takeovers.

In a related move, Japan's Communications Ministry says it will ask lawmakers to revise the Radio Law to make it more difficult for foreign companies to gain control of broadcasters. The U.S. investment bank Lehman Brothers helped fund Livedoor's bid for Nippon Broadcasting. That raised concern that foreigners could indirectly gain control of radio and television companies.

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi is playing down concern that the continuing dispute with Washington over Tokyo's ban on imports of U.S. beef could worsen relations. He discussed the issue Thursday with President Bush, who asked for a swift decision on ending the ban.

However, the head of Japan's Food Safety Commission says he does not expect political pressure to play a role in lifting the country's 15-month ban. Yasufumi Tanahashi says the commission's decisions will be made purely on scientific grounds.

Japan and the United States agreed in October to resume imports of beef from animals under the age of 20-months, but there have been delays in implementing that decision. All American beef imports were halted in 2003, following the discovery of mad cow disease in one animal in the United States.