• Kyodo

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Japan has urged China to ensure the safety of four Japanese nationals detained since last week in Hebei Province and “handle the case swiftly from a humanitarian viewpoint,” the Japanese Embassy in Beijing said late Sunday.

Hidehisa Horinouchi, a minister at the embassy, filed the request with Qiu Xuejun, deputy director general in the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s Department of Consular Affairs, by telephone Sunday night, the embassy said in a news release.

Horinouchi asked for continued access to the men, such as visits by the local Japanese consul and interviews with lawyers.

All four are employees of construction company Fujita Corp. They were detained Sept. 20 for allegedly entering a military zone in the outskirts of Shijiazhuang, Hebei Province, without permission and videotaping facilities there.

Qiu reassured Horinouchi about their well-being, but he did not say when China would release them, only that the case will be handled in accordance with Chinese law, according to the embassy.

He said he would inform senior officials of the Chinese Foreign Ministry that the Japanese authorities are monitoring the situation with serious concern.

Qiu reportedly told Horiuchi that the Japanese side should directly convey its requests to officials in Hebei Province.

The four have been identified as Yoshiro Sasaki of Fujita’s international business department, Hiroki Hashimoto from its sales division, and Sadamu Takahashi and Junichi Iguchi, both from a local subsidiary.

They visited the area to inspect a potential construction site for a plant that would process chemical weapons abandoned in China by the Japanese military at the end of World War II.

China strictly controls visitors in military-related areas. While it is not uncommon for visitors who inadvertently take photos or video to be detained, they are usually fined and freed the same day.

Some observers suspect the Chinese action may be in retaliation for Japan’s detention of the Chinese fishing boat captain.

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