EDITORIAL | Did Japan do enough to save a citizen who died in a Chinese prison?

In February, a 70-year-old Japanese man serving a prison sentence in China died of illness in a Beijing hospital.

The deceased was detained in Beijing in 2015 and sentenced to 12 years in prison for espionage, but crucial details were never released. He died in China never knowing what he had done to deserve such punishment.

Without even disclosing the charges against him, the Chinese government deprived the man of his liberty, and ultimately his life – a sickening violation of human rights supposedly committed in the name of justice.

The deceased worked for an airline before becoming a consultant, often traveling to China for work. The circumstances and reasons for his detention are still unknown.

Since his case was tried behind closed doors, it is unclear whether he had access to a lawyer. Such a legal procedure would be unthinkable in a democratic country.

The Japanese government must ask the Chinese authorities to release the details and reasons for the charge and imprisonment.

In December 2021, it emerged that another Japanese man, this time in his 50s, had been detained in Shanghai. He too is suspected by the Chinese authorities of being involved in espionage.

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A security guard gestures near the site of an explosion outside the US Embassy in Beijing in another alleged 2018 China spy case. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

The enactment of a counterintelligence law by the Xi Jinping administration in 2014 led to a series of detentions of foreign nationals, 16 of whom are Japanese. Of these, nine were sentenced to 3 to 15 years in prison, but the Chinese government has not explained what exactly was illegal in each case.

China must clarify the details of the deceased’s detention and the grounds for his conviction.

When Huawei Technologies chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou was arrested in Canada in 2018, China’s foreign ministry – in a perfect picture of hypocrisy – criticized Canadian authorities for detaining her without giving a reason and accused of violating her human rights.

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Questions also remain about how seriously the Japanese government made attempts to save the deceased and whether the Japanese diplomatic mission responsible for protecting Japanese nationals should be tougher in demanding the truth from China.

On February 17, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said, “We had urged China to let him return to Japan as soon as possible for humanitarian reasons. It’s really unfortunate that this happened, and we protested to the Chinese authorities.

The Japanese Consulate General in Shanghai is calling for the early release of the Japanese detainee, who is in his fifties.

Japanese citizens will not understand or tolerate the government’s silence on this issue. The details of the man’s death and the reasons for his detention must be known. Japan must put pressure on the Chinese government and make the progress of its negotiations public.

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(Read the editorial in Japanese on this link.)

Author: editorial board, The Sankei Shimbun

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