On April 6 China executed a Japanese national for the first time since the two countries normalized diplomatic relations in 1972. On Friday, three more Japanese men were executed for drug-related offenses.

The Japanese government had expressed “concern” about the executions. Mitsunobu Akano, a 65-year-old and the first to be exected, was convicted of trying to smuggle 2.5 kg of stimulants to Japan. He was arrested at Dalian airport in September 2006.

Questions remain about whether Akano was given a fair trial. He reportedly had protested that his interpreter was not qualified and had expressed doubts about the accuracy of investigation records. He also had complained that the death sentence was too heavy in view of his auxiliary role in the crime. His death sentence was finalized in April 2009.

Drug-related problems in China are increasing amid the country’s economic boom. It is said that more than 1.3 million Chinese are using narcotics or stimulant drugs. Given China’s historical experience with opium addiction on a mass scale, the current situation has understandably imbued China’s leadership with a strong sense of crisis. Last year, investigative authorities arrested 1,559 people on drug-related charges and seized about two tons of drugs. Unlike in Japan, where the harshest sentence for drug smuggling is life imprisonment, in China anyone convicted of smuggling 50 grams or more of stimulant drugs can be given 15 years’ imprisonment, a life sentence or a death sentence. On the same day that Akano was executed, China’s Supreme People’s Court said that drug crimes pose a serious threat to society and that the use of the death penalty for drug crimes serves as a deterrent.

While the four men’s punishment may seem too harsh from a Japanese perspective, Japan also employs capital punishment so it cannot take a strong stance against China’s action. Any Japanese who may be tempted to smuggle drugs through China would be wise to recall these men’s unfortunate fate.

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