Truth, Inspiration, Hope.

Japanese Prime Minister Demands China Release Businessman Suspected of Espionage

Darren Maung
Darren is an aspiring writer who wishes to share or create stories to the world and bring humanity together as one. A massive Star Wars nerd and history buff, he finds enjoyable, heart-warming or interesting subjects in any written media.
Published: April 6, 2023
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida during a budget committee meeting in Tokyo on Mar. 27, 2023. Days later, he would call on Beijing for the release of a Japanese employee of a pharmaceutical company, who has been detained by Chinese authorities under suspicion of espionage. (Image: Kazuhiro Nogi/AFP via Getty Images)

On April 3, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida called on China to release an employee of Astellas Pharma, who has been detained by Chinese authorities under suspicion of espionage. As Beijing continues to push its politics onto the world, this case comes amidst territorial disputes with Tokyo.

Employee behind bars

Aside from the man’s release, Tokyo also demanded that Beijing allow the detainee consular visits and support, including contact with his family, Reuters reported.

“We again strongly urge the Chinese side to swiftly release (the national) and allow visits by a Japanese consul,” Kishida told the Audit Committee of the House of Councilors, The Japan Times wrote.

The Japanese man, in his 50s, was placed in custody in March for allegedly breaking domestic law. His identity remains unknown, but China’s foreign ministry believes he was “engaging in espionage activities.”

Astellas Pharma, a Japanese pharmaceutical company, acknowledged that the detainee is one of its employees, who has worked in China for over 20 years. However, they also refused to share more details about him, including his name and whether he is based in China.

Tokyo has yet to receive the exact answer as to why the man was detained, Japan’s foreign ministry said. This sense of uncertainty has sent shockwaves through Japanese businesses.

“There’s a general sense of anxiety… everyone understands that they could be detained at any point,” an anonymous Japanese expatriate in China told Reuters.

“Unless we know how and why this person was detained, there’s a possibility the authorities could say that whatever we’re doing on a daily basis is illegal,” he added.


Foreign visit

Prime Minister Kishida’s words came after Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi made the same request during a visit to Beijing on Apr. 2 to meet with his Chinese counterpart, Qin Gang. Hayashi also said that he and Qin agreed to keep in touch “at all levels” to improve relations.

Qin said that China “will handle the matter in accordance with law,” adding that with this year being the 45th anniversary of the Peace and Friendship Treaty — signed in 1978 — “right choices” had to be made to preserve the significance of that pact.

Qin expressed his intentions to cooperate with Hayashi to encourage better communication so that China and Japan can “move ahead by removing obstacles.” He also said that the U.S. “used bullying tactics” to hinder Japan’s semiconductor industry.

“Japan has suffered that pain, and should not help a villain do evil. The containment will only further stimulate China’s determination to become self-reliant,” Qin said.

Being the first Japanese foreign minister to visit China since December 2019, Hayashi also met with Premier Li Qiang.

Territorial disputes

Around the same time as the detainee issue, Chinese ships intruded into Japanese waters, sailing around the Senkaku Islands — a common location of contention between Beijing and Tokyo — for over 80 hours on April 2. It was the longest intrusion into Japanese waters  by the Chinese since Japan nationalized the East China Sea islands, which China claimed, in 2012.

“We will put our best efforts into vigilance and surveillance activities and take action calmly and firmly,” Kishida said, responding to a question from the Liberal Democratic Party.