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A record high 12 Japanese have been arrested at Chinese airports this year for allegedly smuggling drugs, according to the Foreign Ministry.

A ministry division tasked with protecting Japanese overseas said 10 Japanese were arrested between March and early October — in Shenyang, Dalian, Guangzhou and Hong Kong — for trying to smuggle anywhere from 1 kg to 7 kg of narcotics out of China.

In late September, two Japanese men were arrested in Shanghai for allegedly trying to smuggle chemical stimulants, the ministry said.

The 12 were caught when Chinese authorities checked their luggage, it said, noting eight were arrested in July.

In the previous four years, only two Japanese nationals have been arrested on suspicion of drug-smuggling in China, according to the ministry.

Investigative authorities said that the number of Japanese arrested in China may be increasing because it is becoming more difficult to smuggle drugs from North Korea, as the international community has increased its monitoring of the country, which has allegedly been a major narcotics supplier for Japan.

The amount of drugs circulating in Japan is believed declining, though prices rose sharply this year, the authorities said, noting that about 35 percent of the drugs seized in Japan between 1998 and 2002 came from North Korea.

Most of the 12 held in China were reportedly smuggling on behalf of underworld groups in Japan.

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