Raise Sense of Crisis to Threats Presented by Industrial Espionage

If Japan’s advanced technology has been stolen, it is an extremely serious matter. The government must strengthen its management of critical information and protect its valuable technologies.

A Chinese national working as a senior researcher at Japan’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) has been arrested by the Metropolitan Police Department on suspicion of violating the Unfair Competition Prevention Law by leaking research data to a Chinese company.

The data in question, which the senior researcher allegedly sent via email to the Chinese company in 2018, is related to technology for synthesizing a special gas that is believed to be valuable in the fight against global warming. One week later, the company applied for and obtained a patent in China for the same technology.

AIST is one of Japan’s largest public research institutes, and a large amount of government funds have been invested in it. It is intolerable for the results of those research activities to be transferred to another country rather than leading to the development of Japanese industry.

The senior researcher was also a faculty member at the Beijing Institute of Technology, a Chinese university believed to be affiliated with the Chinese military. A photo of him shaking hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping after receiving an award in China has appeared on the internet.

The Chinese company has an agency in Tsukuba, Ibaraki Prefecture, where AIST is located, and the wife of the senior researcher was the agency’s president.

Was it really impossible for AIST to recognize such a situation? AIST should examine how the senior researcher was hired 20 years ago and review its rules for handling research results, and then disclose its findings.

In advanced research fields, competition for excellent human resources has been intensifying worldwide. Many foreigners are active in Japanese research institutes and companies. Such a situation itself is necessary, but how to deal with the outflow of Japanese technology has become a major issue.

Japan lags behind in addressing the problem. This incident is probably just the tip of the iceberg. It is hoped that each research institution and company will take another look at the risk of information leakage and take preventive measures against such a situation. It would be advisable for them to consider introducing a whistleblower system regarding suspicious behavior by researchers.

China is apparently trying to gather technological information from other countries and gain an edge in international competition. In Japan, there have been incidents in the past in which smartphone technology was leaked to Chinese companies.

If information on advanced technologies is easily leaked outside Japan, joint research and technological development with other countries will not be viable. The government and related organizations need to raise their awareness of the crisis.

The government is aiming to introduce a “security clearance” system that will tighten the management of advanced technologies and other critical information from the perspective of economic security. It is essential to make this an effective system.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 21, 2023)