(Asahi: October 26, 2015 – p. 3)
By Masatomo Norikyo; Kim Soonhi in Shanghai
Almost a month has passed since several Japanese nationals were found to have been detained for alleged involvement in “spying” in China. It is said that two of them had been in contact with Japan intelligence organizations in the past. The reason behind their unusually long detention is the fact that the Chinese authorities are very anxious about the activities of foreigners.
According to a source on Japan-China relations, a 51-year old man from Aichi Prefecture was caught taking photos near a military facility in the Nanji Islands in Zhejiang Province in May. This was considered espionage.
According to people who know this man, he once worked as a salesman for a real estate agent after graduating from college. He started his own business when he was in his 30s and had apparently held positions at more than 10 different companies, including insurance and security firms.
He began moving most of his business operations to China from the 2000s. Once he asked an acquaintance to invest in a new business involving “a project with a top university in Beijing to dispatch Chinese engineers to Japanese companies.” However, he suffered a setback due to the Lehman Shock of 2008 and other reasons. Very few people know what happened to him after that.
Another man, 55, from Kanagawa Prefecture was arrested in Dandong, Liaoning Province, near the Chinese border with North Korea last May. According to people who know him, his father is a North Korean resident in Japan, while his mother is Japanese. They went to North Korea in the 1960s under one of the repatriation programs. The family fled North Korea in the latter half of the 1990s, when there was a serious food shortage there. After spending three years in hiding in China, he returned to Japan in 2001, obtaining Japanese citizenship thereafter. He once told other people that “(in North Korea,) you are lucky if you can have soup made of corn flour dissolved in hot water once a day.”
When he first came to Japan, he worked at the prize exchange counter of a pachinko parlor. He once opened a Korean restaurant in Guangzhou because he wanted to do business in China. He also obtained information from people who frequented the China-DPRK border area and helped with the TV stations’ interviews of refugees from North Korea.
A female official of a Japanese language school in Tokyo, who is in her 50s, disappeared in Shanghai last June. She is Chinese but a naturalized Japanese citizen and had assisted Chinese students in Japan. She used to go to China once a month to meet with agents in order to recruit students and had personal connections with senior officials of Japan-China friendship organizations. An official at the language school lamented her detention because she is “somebody who has helped students make their dreams come true.”
Another man in his 60s from Hokkaido was also arrested in Beijing in June. He is a former employee of a major airline. He came to know several Diet members and other officials through his labor union activities and election campaigns. He built a personal network in China and after his retirement, had served as a business consultant for operations like importing Chinese medicine, attracting Chinese tourists to Japan, and so forth. He went to China once or twice a month. An informed source points out, “Many companies doing business in China relied on his connections.” Before his last trip to China, he told a friend he was going for a week or so for business negotiations. Just before his scheduled return date, he called to say he would be “delayed for two or three days,” and that was the last anyone had heard from him.
According to the source on Japan-China relations, these four Japanese were all arrested by the Chinese Ministry of State Security. Although it is not uncommon for Japanese nationals to be arrested by the Chinese police for involvement in criminal cases, it is extremely unusual for the ministry to arrest four Japanese at about the same time.
This source, who is familiar with security issues in China, notes that the many arrests made in different places in May and June indicate that “there had been an order in the State Security Ministry to crack down.”
The Xi Jinping leadership believes that the Western countries were behind the “Arab Spring” pro-democracy movement that toppled several governments. It is stepping up its surveillance of diplomatic missions, members of the foreign media, NGOs, and others. Several Japanese government sources indicated that Japanese intelligence agencies had made contact with the man from Aichi Prefecture arrested near a military facility in Zhejiang Province and the man from Kanagawa Prefecture arrested near the China-DPRK border in Liaoning Province for information gathering purposes. However, it is unclear if the two men had engaged in their activities this time for the intelligence agencies.
Officials of the Japanese Embassy and consulates general are unable to obtain much information from the detained Japanese because they are accompanied by Chinese officials when they go to visit them.
Under Chinese criminal laws, spying, except for minor cases, is punishable by imprisonment of up to 10 years. A death sentence is also possible if the case is deemed to have brought “particularly serious damage to the state and the people.” It is highly possible that trial will be conducted behind closed doors on the grounds that state secrets are involved.
Meanwhile, the above source says that the Japanese government has not even been informed of the names of the man and woman arrested in Beijing and Shanghai, so it is difficult to look into their cases. It seems that these two are under “house arrest.” This is a uniquely Chinese measure taken before actual detention or arrest. Suspects are held at hotels or other places while they undergo interrogation. Under Chinese laws, “house arrest” can be implemented for up to six months, so this is likely to become a protracted issue.