China has detained four Japanese employees of construction company Fujita Corp., reportedly for entering a military zone in Hebei Province without authorization and videotaping military targets, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku said Friday.

Partially confirming Sengoku’s remarks, Tokyo-based Fujita said Friday it hasn’t been able to contact five of its workers in China, including four Japanese nationals, since Monday.

“We are very sorry to make the public worried,” Tatsuro Tsuchiya, Fujita’s senior operating officer, told a news conference. “We pray for an early resolution to this matter.”

The Xinhua news agency reported Thursday that four Japanese citizens were detained after entering a military zone in Shijiazhuang, Hebei Province, without permission and videotaping military facilities there.

The five went out to inspect a potential construction site for a plant that would process abandoned chemical weapons, Tsuchiya said.

The incident has come to light amid the diplomatic row between Japan and China over the arrest earlier this month of a Chinese trawler captain following an incident near the disputed Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.

Prosecutors decided Friday to release the captain out of consideration of bilateral relations.

“If this is a retaliation against the Senkaku issue, it would be very regrettable,” Tsuchiya told the news conference.

China is detaining the four based on laws protecting military facilities and on Chinese criminal procedures, Sengoku told a news conference, citing Chinese government officials.

According to Fujita, Yoshiro Sasaki, 44, and Hiroki Hashimoto, 39, both of whom are Tokyo residents, left Japan for Nanjing on Sept. 17 and entered Shanghai to join Sadamu Takahashi, 57, Junichi Iguchi, 59, and Cai Yinsheng, 51, on Sunday.

Fujita’s operating officer in charge of international operations, Hiroo Suganuma, said the five went on to Shijiazhuang, the planned site of the plant, on Monday morning.

Takahashi sent a cell phone e-mail reading “Help” in Chinese to Fujita’s subsidiary in China on Tuesday morning, according to Suganuma.

Fujita officials have not been able to reach any of them, he said.

Suganuma said he had no knowledge that there are military facilities near the site.

The team should have known they could be in trouble if they videotaped military facilities in China because two of the four Japanese have more than 10-years experience and the other two have two-years experience in business in China, Suganuma said.

The five were to have stayed in Shijiazhuang one or two days, he said.

Fujita earlier helped build a plant in Nanjing to process chemical weapons left behind by the Imperial Japanese Army during the war. Learning that a similar project is in the works in Shijiazhuang, Fujita dispatched the employees to inspect the potential site, the company said in a press release.

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