Japanese Employee Held: Unexplained Arrests in China Belie Assertions of ‘Rule of Law’

Taking a person into custody and attempting to punish them without specifying what they allegedly did to violate the law: It is hard to describe such an act as one carried out by a nation ruled by law. China should be aware that such behavior is unacceptable to the international community.

Chinese authorities have formally arrested a Japanese citizen in his 50s who is an employee of Astellas Pharma Inc. He was detained in March on suspicion of violating the anti-espionage law.

The Japanese government had called for the early release of the man, but the Chinese side did not respond. The man is highly likely to be indicted and tried in court.

It cannot be overlooked that the Chinese authorities have not disclosed any details of the charges that led to his arrest.

A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson has refused to provide information on the case. The spokesperson only said: “China is a country [that operates] under the rule of law. We will handle the case in accordance with [the] law and protect the lawful rights and interests of the person concerned.”

Although China claims it is a nation ruled by law, that claim makes no sense unless Beijing publicly explains what alleged behavior of the man constituted espionage activities.

The administration of Chinese President Xi Jinping, which puts importance on national security, enacted the anti-espionage law in 2014. The law prohibits “the theft and provision of state secrets” as well as “other espionage activities.”

The revised law, which came into effect in July this year, expands the definition of acts of espionage to include the theft of information concerning “national security and interests,” among others.

The specific meaning of “other espionage activities” and information concerning “national security and interests” has been left to the unilateral judgment of Chinese authorities. This means that foreign nationals could be accused of espionage at any time.

Japanese, U.S. and other foreign companies have increasingly refrained from sending their employees on business trips to China. The Xi administration has been seeking aggressive foreign investment to rebuild the Chinese economy, which was battered by its zero-COVID policy, but under such circumstances, it is unlikely to achieve its desired results.

The Xi administration is said to have given national security greater priority than the economy in order to maintain its power. However, if Beijing continues its unjustified detention of foreign nationals, the impact of such a policy will not be limited to the economy. This situation will impede exchanges of people and undermine relations of trust with other countries.

If tensions escalate with foreign nations, it will ultimately shake China’s own security. The idea of ensuring national security while ignoring the resulting impact on diplomacy and the economy is clearly questionable.

At least 17 Japanese nationals have been detained by Chinese state security authorities since 2014. Five of them have not been able to return home. Has the Japanese government responded appropriately to their detention? At the very least, Tokyo must strongly urge the Chinese side to provide details of the charges that led to their arrests.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Oct. 21, 2023)