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International relations

Japan protests China's detention of national, seeks early release

Foreign minister meets counterpart in Beijing first time in three years

Japan's foreign minister Yoshimasa Hayashi, left, meets Chinese counterpart Qin Gang in Beijing on April 2.   © Kyodo

BEIJING (Kyodo) -- Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi said Sunday he has lodged a stern protest over China's recent detention of a Japanese national and sought his early release in meetings with senior Chinese officials in Beijing after the incident further strained bilateral ties.

Hayashi also requested Chinese Premier Li Qiang and foreign policy chief Wang Yi to ensure that Beijing provides "an environment in which Japanese nationals and companies can safely work and operate," the Japanese Foreign Ministry said, in reference to the citizen's detention.

In a separate meeting, however, Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang only told Hayashi that Beijing will "handle the case based on laws," according to the Chinese government.

Hayashi told reporters following the meeting with Qin that he also sought consular access to the Japanese citizen and urged China to provide transparency in the judicial process. The national, arrested in China last month, is a senior employee of Japanese pharmaceutical firm Astellas Pharma Inc.

Since a counterespionage law and a new national security law came into force in China in 2014, 17 Japanese citizens have been detained for their alleged involvement in spy activities. Five of them are still being held in China, the Japanese government said.

Hayashi, the first Japanese foreign minister to travel to China since December 2019, became the first Japanese minister to meet with Li, who assumed the premiership last month.

The Japanese minister also met in person with Qin, who took the ministerial post late last year, for the first time. He wrapped up a two-day China visit after meeting with Wang, a member of the ruling Communist Party's Political Bureau, who outranks Qin.

Japan's top diplomat added he and Qin agreed that the two countries should maintain close communication "at all levels" to improve strained ties, including between their leaders and foreign ministers.

Hayashi said he has also expressed Tokyo's serious concern over the repeated entry of Chinese vessels into waters near the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, which Beijing claims, and joint military activities between China and Russia near Japanese territory.

The two sides reaffirmed the importance of maintaining communications involving security and welcomed the establishment of a hotline between their defense authorities that was announced on Friday, Hayashi said. The communications link is designed to build confidence and prevent unexpected contingencies.

On Taiwan, the self-ruled democratic island regarded by Beijing as its territory, Hayashi said he underscored the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait amid increasing Chinese military pressure in the region.

Li told Hayashi that Japan should appropriately handle the Taiwan issue "with sincerity," saying it concerns the "political foundations" of the two countries' relations, according to Chinese state-run media.

Qin warned against Japan getting involved with the Taiwan issue, saying it is "at the core of China's core interests." Tokyo should not damage Beijing's sovereignty in any way, the Chinese Foreign Ministry quoted the foreign minister as saying.

The top Japanese diplomat also said he called on China to play a "responsible role" in ensuring the peace and security of the international community in reference to the Ukraine crisis.

Chinese President Xi Jinping and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, met in the Russian capital in March, with Moscow positively assessing Beijing's proposal of a cease-fire and political settlement of the crisis.

But critics say the Chinese plan is not impartial as it does not call for Russia to withdraw its troops from Ukraine.

As for Tokyo's plan to start releasing treated radioactive water into the sea from the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant sometime this spring or summer, Qin urged Japan to "responsibly deal with" the discharge because it is a "serious matter concerning the health and safety of human beings," the Chinese Foreign Ministry said.

Hayashi said he protested China's information campaign on the Fukushima water issue, claiming it is "not based on science."

Qin also criticized a decision taken by Japan on Friday to tighten export controls for advanced chip manufacturing equipment, a measure seen as an effort to hinder Beijing's development of advanced semiconductors that could be used for military purposes.

The Chinese minister urged Tokyo not to join U.S.-led efforts to stymie Beijing's ability to develop high-end semiconductors, saying such a "containment" measure would "only strengthen China's determination for self-reliance."

Hayashi said he explained to Qin that the latest export control step is "not targeted at a specific country."

The Japanese minister said he relayed Tokyo's concerns over moves in China to coerce foreign companies to disclose and transfer advanced technologies and called for a "transparent, predictable and fair business environment."

The two ministers also agreed that Japan and China will work to restart the trilateral dialogue framework involving South Korea, Hayashi said.

Last November, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Xi agreed at a summit in Bangkok to arrange Hayashi's visit to China in an effort to stabilize precarious ties. The two Asian neighbors have shared the view that they will seek "constructive and stable" relations.

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