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Spies and their watchers in a tense war of nerves


Special To The Japan Times

What in the world is China going to do with 5,000 tsubo — about four acres — of land in Niigata City? Build a new consulate general, it says. But that seems like an awful lot for a consulate in a regional city whose main activity since it initially opened has been issuance of commercial visas.

China’s acquisition of such a large plot of land — a third again larger than its embassy in Tokyo — is raising suspicions. Masahisa Sato, a member of the Diet’s House of Councilors and formerly an officer in the Ground Self-Defense Force, tells Shukan Post (June 15) that China two years ago passed a military mobilization law that obliges all citizens, including those living abroad, to serve the nation in time of war.

“Under the pretext of protecting Chinese nationals, the People’s Liberation Army could use this to justify entering other countries,” says Sato. “In the event of a crisis between Japan and China, the Niigata consulate could even be turned into a military fortress — and that’s unacceptable.

“Niigata was also the center for abductions of Japanese by the North Koreans, and there’s a chance that one of their operators might enter the Chinese consulate to seek sanctuary,” Sato adds.

One possible explanation for the large land acquisition is that Niigata’s future importance to China is expected to increase significantly, since the city is situated in a straight line across the Sea of Japan from Rajin Port in northeast North Korea, where China has obtained extensive concessions giving its commercial fleet ice-free, year-round access in the Sea of Japan and beyond that, to the Arctic via the La Perouse (Soya) Strait.

Meanwhile on May 31, the public security division of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department charged Li Chunguang, a 45-year-old secretary in the economic section of the Chinese embassy in Tokyo, with violation of the alien registration law.

Li, reports Shukan Ashai (June 15), was under suspicion for using a forged identity to open one, or possibly several bank accounts for business interests that had nothing to do with his job at the embassy. But Li has a background in military intelligence, and as word spread of his personal contacts with high-ranking members of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan, the words “spy scandal” soon surfaced in the newspapers.

Li made a hurried return to China to avoid the police request to appear for questioning.

Some argue that the “scandal” came about through leaks aimed at discrediting the Noda Cabinet, and may be nothing more sinister than a foreign diplomat laying the groundwork for a mid-career change. The Sunday Mainichi (June 17) quotes an acquaintance of Li as having told him, “My wife has obtained permanent residence in Japan, and I want to stay here too. I want to quit the embassy and become a company director, and get involved in the tourism business.”

Against real and imagined incursions, Japan is not entirely defenseless. Sapio (July 18) introduces some particulars of the nation’s security apparatus, which coordinate operations by the police in all 47 prefectures, plus intelligence units in the Self-Defense Force and Coast Guard, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Justice.

The magazine displays the various branches in colored organizational charts and a graph that shows the source of funding designated for security operations — from a portion of the police budget marked “miscellaneous,” which means it is exempt from having to make public the specific details.

It may not be for a lack of effort (or budget), but the counterespionage people do not have a huge number of successes to flaunt for their efforts. Sapio lists seven (including one ongoing investigation) since the year 2000, none of which could be described as earth-shattering.

The subject of industrial espionage, meanwhile, was taken up in detail in Nikkei Business (July 9). As appreciation of the Japanese yen forces more Japanese firms to move production and R&D abroad, not only is Japan’s manufacturing base shrinking at home, but leakage of proprietary technological know-how can rob companies of their future.

The 2011 White Paper on Manufacturing found that 44.5 percent of companies with overseas manufacturing plants were either certain, or else suspected, that their technology had been leaked.

The stakes are high in some fields, such as display technology, where Japanese and South Korean electronics firms are vying for supremacy in EL (electroluminescence), which is expected to replace LEDs in the next generation of digital television. Unless secrecy is maintained, the magazine warns that Japan could very easily lose the advantages it still holds in such product sectors as digital cameras and office equipment.

Companies are advised to enforce tighter restrictions on who is permitted access to which information. Work contracts with employees should go into detail about penalties for illegal disclosure. Nikkei Business reminds readers that corporate security begins with the people at the top, and that to ignore this obvious precaution is akin, as an old expression goes, to Hotoke tsukutte tamashii wo irezu (carving an image of Buddha but leaving out the soul).