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Renewed tension between Japan and China over the arrest of a “spy” in Beijing

Japan has demanded that China release a Japanese national detained in Beijing earlier this month on suspicion of spying Image Courtesy Reuters

Tokyo: The arrest of a Japanese citizen in China for spying has sparked a fresh diplomatic row between East Asian neighbors with a long history of acrimony.

Japan has demanded that China release a Japanese national detained in Beijing earlier this month on suspicion of espionage.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno told a press conference that the Japanese Embassy in China had been informed by Chinese authorities that a Japanese man in his 50s had been arrested in Beijing. At the beginning of the month of March.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Mao Ning said in Beijing that “the Japanese citizen is suspected of engaging in espionage activities in violation of criminal law…and the anti-espionage law of the People’s Republic of China”.

All foreigners visiting and living in China “should abide by Chinese laws, and those who break the law and commit crimes should be held accountable according to law”, Mao said at a regular press briefing.

He said similar cases involving Japanese citizens have happened repeatedly and urged the Japanese government to “strengthen the education of its citizens and send them reminders.”

Since China passed its counterintelligence law in 2014, 17 Japanese nationals – including the Astellas employee – have been detained by Chinese authorities for alleged espionage activities.

In Tokyo, Matsuno said the Japanese government demanded his citizen’s early release. Japan has also asked the Chinese authorities to allow the man access to Japanese consular authorities. He said the Japanese government is giving him as much support as possible, including communicating with relevant parties.

A Japanese pharmaceutical company, Astellas Pharma Inc., acknowledged the detained man was its employee, but declined to release further details, including his name, position and whether he is based in China. The company said it was seeking information from the Japanese Foreign Ministry.

More than a dozen Japanese citizens with business or other ties to China have been arrested in the past on espionage allegations. A Japanese diplomat was arrested for questioning in 2022 and released a few hours later, sparking strong protests from Japan.

Tokyo and Beijing have been increasingly at odds in recent years, with Japan viewing China’s growing influence in the region as a threat to its national security and economy.

(With contributions from the agency)

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