National / Crime & Legal

China frees Japanese law professor accused of spying after obtaining confession

Kyodo, JIJI

Nobu Iwatani, a professor at Hokkaido University’s graduate school of law who was arrested in China earlier this year on suspicion of spying, was released Friday and is back home, the Japanese government said.

The professor, 42, who specializes in modern Chinese history, was confirmed to be in good health, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at a news conference the same day.

In October, Suga announced the professor had been detained in September on suspicion of violating Chinese law.

On Friday, the Chinese Foreign Ministry disclosed that Iwatani had confessed to illegally collecting state secrets, expressed repentance and was granted bail, spokesman Geng Shuang said at a news briefing in Beijing.

The professor was employed by the national university but had also worked in the past for the National Institute for Defense Studies at the Defense Ministry.

“Since Hokkaido University Professor Iwatani was detained, the government has been calling for his early return to Japan at every level,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said at his office.

“We are truly grateful that Professor Iwatani returned home safely and was reunited with his family,” Abe told reporters.

China has been stepping up its watch over foreign organizations and individuals in the name of national security since President Xi Jinping came to power in 2013.

Iwatani’s release came amid a recent thaw in Sino-Japanese ties long frayed by wartime history and territorial issues. Japan and China now say relations are “on a normal track” and are making arrangements for President Xi Jinping to visit Japan next spring.

Abe told Chinese Vice President Wang Qishan, a close aide to Xi, at a meeting in Tokyo last month to handle the case of the professor in a “positive manner,” effectively calling for his release.

According to Geng, national security authorities on Sept. 8 seized materials related to state secrets at a hotel where Iwatani was staying.

The scholar admitted to collecting secrets in the past as well, Geng said, adding that he left for Japan on Friday.

Speaking to reporters in Tokyo, Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi said Iwatani’s detention was one of the issues of bilateral concern that Japan wanted to resolve to create a “good environment” for welcoming Xi.