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International relations

Japan seeks release of citizen accused of spying in China

Employee of drugmaker Astellas Pharma was detained earlier this month

Japan is urging China to release one of its citizens detained in Beijing. The 50-year-old, an employee of Japanese drug maker Astellas Pharma Inc, is being held on spying allegations.    © AP

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Japan has urged China to release one of its citizens detained in Beijing as soon as possible and allow consular officials to meet with him, the top government spokesman said Monday.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno told a news conference that the Japanese government is in contact with people related to the man, who is in his 50s. Japanese drugmaker Astellas Pharma has confirmed he is one of its employees.

Chinese authorities notified the Japanese Embassy in Beijing this month that they detained the man in the capital for what they said were violations of Chinese law, Matsuno said.

In Beijing, Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning said Monday the Japanese man was detained on suspicion of engaging in spying activities in violation of China's counterespionage law.

She also said Japan should send a stronger signal to Japanese citizens about the consequences of such behavior and better "educate" them on the issue, as similar incidents have occurred in recent years.

A Japanese government source said China's counterespionage authorities had detained the man.

A source familiar with the matter has said the man was held by Chinese authorities just before his planned return to Japan this month.

Beijing has been beefing up its scrutiny of foreign organizations and individuals in the name of protecting national security, with a number of foreigners held after introducing a counterespionage law in 2014 and a national security law in 2015.

Since 2015, at least 16 Japanese nationals, excluding the latest case of the Astellas employee, have been detained in China for alleged involvement in espionage activities. Five of them are still being held in China, according to the Japanese foreign ministry.

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