November 15, 2019 / 8:48 AM / 24 days ago

China frees Japanese academic as Tokyo prepares for Xi visit

FILE PHOTO: Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga speaks at a news conference in Tokyo, Japan September 11, 2019. REUTERS/Issei Kato/File Photo

TOKYO (Reuters) - A Japanese academic returned home on Friday after being released by China following several weeks in detention, a move expected to help pave the way for a state visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping to Japan next year.

The professor at Hokkaido University, who is in his forties but was not identified, is in good health, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference.

The professor was detained by Chinese authorities on suspicion of violating an unspecified Chinese law. Japanese media said he was believed to have been accused of espionage.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang confirmed in Beijing that the academic had been sent back home. He said he had been “educated and admonished” for being found with documents containing Chinese state secrets in his hotel room.

Geng did not elaborate on the nature of the state secrets.

Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi declined to provide details on why the man had been detained, citing the sensitive nature of the issue, but said he and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had been “firmly” asking for the man’s release.

“We’d like to welcome President Xi as a state guest next spring in a good atmosphere and have been taking care of issues one by one,” he said.

Japanese media has reported that 13 Japanese civilians have been detained in China on suspicion of engaging in spying activities since 2015.

Reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka, additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Beijing; writing by Elaine Lies; Editing by Himani Sarkar and Timothy Heritage

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