Chinese authorities have detained a Japanese man in Beijing, a government spokesman in Tokyo confirmed Monday, following media reports that a university professor was being held on suspicion of spying.

“The Japanese embassy in China confirmed that a Japanese man in his 40s was detained by Chinese authorities in Beijing in September for (allegedly) violating Chinese laws,” Japan’s top government spokesman Yoshihide Suga told reporters.

He did not specify the charges against the man, but local media have identified him as a professor from Hokkaido University who was held on suspicion of spying.

The man, who has not been named, worked previously for the National Institute for Defense Studies in the defence ministry and the Japanese foreign ministry, according to local media reports.

“Within the framework of protecting Japanese expatriates, we are holding meetings between (the man and) consuls and communicating with his family members, but we decline to comment on further details given the nature of this case,” Suga said.

There has been no public comment on the case so far from Chinese officials.

Beijing has been stepping up its watch over foreign organisations and individuals in the name of protecting national security since President Xi Jinping came to power, particularly after a counterespionage law took effect in 2014 and a national security law in 2015.

China has faced accusations of using detentions of foreigners as a political tool, including recently from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau who called it “hostage diplomacy.”

Canada-China ties have soured since its arrest of Chinese Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou on a US warrant last December, Nine days later, Beijing detained two Canadians and accused them of espionage.

The two Canadians are among a string of foreign nationals arrested in China and charged with espionage or attempting to steal state secrets.

Australian academic Yang Jun, who also goes by his pen name Yang Hengjun, was detained in January shortly after making a rare return to China from the US. Beijing said in September that he had been formally arrested on suspicion of spying.

China also detained six Japanese citizens in 2017 for alleged “illegal activities.”

Since 2015, at least 13 Japanese citizens – all civilians – have been detained in China on various charges including espionage, Kyodo News and the Asahi Shimbun reported.

Tokyo’s ties with Beijing have been at times strained by rows over history and territorial disputes but have been improving recently, with Xi expected to visit Japan early next year.

AFP