• YOMIURI EDITORIAL
  • Detention of Japanese in China

Arbitrary Enforcement of Vague Law Defies Human Rights, Common Sense

It is a clear violation of human rights to detain a person without presenting what alleged acts of the person violated the law and the facts about the alleged crime. China must change its arbitrary application of the law.

A Japanese man, a senior executive of Astellas Pharma Inc.’s local subsidiary, has been detained in Beijing by the Chinese state security authorities. He had been just about to return to Japan in March after a long stint in the country. The Chinese Foreign Ministry has not provided details, only saying that the man is suspected of violating the counterespionage law.

In addition to specific charges such as stealing state secrets and intelligence-gathering, the 2014 law includes provisions for “other espionage activities.” This can be applied to any act at the convenience of the authorities.

Including the latest case, at least 17 Japanese nationals have been detained under the law. Of them, 11 have returned to Japan, one died of illness while in prison, and five are still in detention.

In many cases, people who have been engaged in normal business, research and exchange programs in China, such as trading company employees, university professors and people involved in Japan-China friendship groups, have abruptly been detained. Under this situation, how can Japanese people operate in China with peace of mind?

Commenting on the latest detention, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson said that “the Japanese side needs to do more to ask their citizens not to engage in such activities,” claiming that similar incidents have been repeatedly perpetrated by Japanese. We can hardly believe our ears at such a statement.

The same is true in past cases; the reasons for detention have not been given. Since trials are closed to the public, the truth is still under wraps. It makes no sense for the Chinese side to unilaterally demand that Japan respond to the “illegal acts” of Japanese nationals without providing specific details.

Intergovernmental dialogue, economic activities, and flows of people between Japan and China are resuming.

Detaining Japanese amid such a situation will only give the impression that “China is a scary country,” which will hurt public sentiment toward that country on the Japanese side and may impede the progress of friendship between Japan and China. Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi should demand that China release the Japanese nationals during his visit to China starting on Saturday.

In China, under a one-party dictatorship, laws have been conveniently used as a tool of governance. Under the administration of President Xi Jinping, this trend has become more prominent. In addition to the counterespionage law, other authoritarian laws such as the national security law have been enacted one after another under the guise of maintaining social stability.

Xi has been advocating the promotion of attracting foreign capital to rebuild the economy, which has been hurt by his zero-COVID policy, but under the current circumstances, no results can be expected.

In the West, decoupling is underway to restrict trade with China. Xi should recognize that this trend cannot be stopped without a review of legal procedures that lack transparency.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, April 1, 2023)