- Academics are concerned about travelling to China in wake of professor’s two-month detention, aid agency director Koji Fujiya tells forum in Beijing
- Nations should ‘increase mutual understanding to avoid similar things happening in the future’, he says
The recent detention of a Japanese scholar in China shows the need for greater understanding and trust between Tokyo and Beijing, a Japanese government official said on Thursday.
Nobu Iwatani, a professor at Hokkaido University, was taken into custody in September on suspicion of spying but was released last month.
Koji Fujiya, a director of the Japan International Cooperation Agency, a government department that coordinates development assistance, said the incident had unnerved many in Japan's academic community.
"The professor has been released but there are deep concerns among Japanese scholars who study China, especially those planning to visit," he said on the sidelines of a forum in Beijing to mark four decades of Japanese economic and technical support to China.
"After the incident, some are wondering if they should hold off on their research."
But Fujiya said he hoped the case would not create a rift between the two sides.
"I don't think people should believe that understanding China is difficult and take it (Iwatani's detention) as a reason not to study China," he said.
"The right way is to increase mutual understanding to avoid similar things happening in the future."
Beijing's policies 'uniting US interest groups' against China
Neither Beijing nor Tokyo has given a full explanation of what happened to Iwatani, who is a specialist in modern Chinese history and was reportedly in Beijing at the invitation of a local think tank.
China's foreign ministry said at the time that he had confessed to collecting a large amount of "classified information" but was granted bail after pleading guilty.
A group of 130 Japanese scholars specialising in China studies signed an open letter asking Beijing to disclose full details of the case against Iwatani and the reason for his detention, which they said had damaged trust between the two countries' academic communities.
Relations between Beijing and Tokyo have been strained after years of conflict over wartime grievances and sovereignty claims in the East China Sea. But ties have improved over the past year as the two Asian powers have experienced mutual problems with the United States under President Donald Trump.
Japanese Premier Shinzo Abe is expected to visit China from December 23-25, during which he is set to take part in a trilateral summit with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and South Korean President Moon Jae-in in Chengdu, capital of southwest China's Sichuan province, on Christmas Eve.
Abe is also expected to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing, according to information from the Japanese government.
Japan began providing aid to China under its development assistance programme in 1979, just months after Beijing announced its policy of reform and opening up.
The loans, grants and technical support were invaluable as China embarked on a vast infrastructure building programme that encompassed everything from hospitals to rail lines, ports to steel plants. It soon became the biggest recipient of Japanese aid.
Chinese tourism to Japan hits record highs
Tokyo announced the end of its official assistance programme during Abe's visit to Beijing in October 2018, but the leader said the two sides should continue to work together on infrastructure development projects in other countries.
Fujiya said at the forum in Beijing that they should also seek to cooperate on issues like climate change and disease control.
China and Japan, now the world's second- and third-largest economies, are also keen to boost cooperation on tourism. The number of Chinese visiting Japan rose almost 14 per cent last year to 8.4 million.
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