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Speaking out

【#442】Rescue Japanese Citizens Detained in China

Akio Yaita / 2017.06.01 (Thu)


May 29, 2017

     Six Japanese men, including employees of a geological survey company in Chiba Prefecture near Tokyo who visited China in March for spa prospecting and other geological surveys, have been detained by Chinese security authorities for spying and other charges, bringing to 11 the total number of Japanese citizens detained in China for such charges as “endangering national security” since 2015. This is unusual.
     Among the 11 Japanese detainees in China are small enterprise employees, a Japanese language teacher, a part-time worker at a pachinko pinball parlor and a so-called “Japan-China friendship promotor” engaged in an afforestation project in a Chinese desert. They are not intelligence professionals who have undergone special training. Either, they are not in social position to be able to seek Chinese state secrets. Japanese intelligence organizations largely focus on monitoring radicals in Japan and have no legal authority or budget to send agents abroad. It is highly possible that the 11 Japanese citizens have been detained for false charges.

Western countries seeking to rescue their citizens
     Of the 11 Japanese citizens, four have been already indicted, possibly receiving rulings as early as within this year. In past cases, some foreign spies were sentenced to around 10 years in prison in China.
     Since the inauguration of President Xi Jinping, foreigners in China have increasingly been arrested for spying charges. State-run media devoted much space to covering such arrests, indicating that Chinese authorities have taken advantage of such incidents as well as patriotic education to increase the government’s centripetal force.
     Not only Japanese but also Americans, Canadians and Australians have been detained for spying charges in China in recent years. However, Western countries usually use diplomatic negotiations to rescue their citizens. In the summer of 2014, a male Canadian coffee shop manager in Dandong close to the China-North Korea border was seized for his alleged stealing of military information. The Canadian government immediately gave priority to the release of the man and launched tenacious negotiations with Beijing. The man was released just before Chinese Premier Li Keqiang’s visit to Canada in September 2016. An American businesswoman seized in Guangdong Province in April 2015 was rescued in two years through the U.S. government’s diplomatic efforts.

Tokyo gives priority to giving stuff to detained Japanese
     However, the Japanese government has given colder treatments to its citizens detained in China than foreign governments. Consuls at the Japanese embassy regularly meet those detained citizens, providing them mostly with cup noodles, magazines and other daily commodities. There are no confirmed cases in which the Japanese government filed any protest against the detention of Japanese citizens or conducted negotiations to win their early release. If Tokyo does nothing, the 11 Japanese are likely to be forced to spend time in prison for a long term in China.
     The Japanese government has long been criticized for being less conscious of protecting Japanese nationals in foreign countries. This might be attributable to Japan’s lack of experience of conducting independent diplomacy. The Japanese Foreign Ministry is also said to be still bound by its evil attitude of making no complaint to Beijing.
     Chinese Premier Li may reportedly visit Japan within this year for a Japan-China-South Korea summit. The Japanese government should give top priority to rescuing those detained Japanese citizens in preparatory diplomatic negotiations with China on the summit.

Akio Yaita is Deputy Foreign News Editor for The Sankei Shimbun.