October 12, 2015 / 9:19 AM / 3 years ago

China's top diplomat to visit Japan amid new spy report

BEIJING (Reuters) - China’s top diplomat will visit Japan this week for high-level political talks, the foreign ministry said on Monday, amid reports that China has detained two more Japanese nationals for spying.

State Councillor Yang Jiechi, who outranks the foreign minister, will be in Tokyo on Tuesday and Wednesday and will meet the head of Japan’s National Security Council, Shotaro Yachi, a close ally of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said the two sides would talk about bilateral and international issues and ways to “manage and control disputes”, though was not able to immediately say if Yang would meet Abe.

China and Japan have close economic and cultural ties, but have long bickered over their painful wartime history, and have an increasingly bitter argument over ownership of a group of uninhabited islets in the East China Sea.

Last month China said that it had arrested two Japanese for spying.

Japanese media said over the weekend that two others had also been detained, one a Japanese woman who had been held in Shanghai since June and the other a Japanese national in Beijing.

Hua would not directly comment on those reports.

“As far as I understand, relevant Chinese departments are investigating the relevant cases in accordance with the law. The relevant situation has been passed on to the Japanese side,” she told a daily news briefing.

A Japanese foreign ministry spokesman declined to comment.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has overseen a tightening of already strict security laws and regulations, including setting up a new national security commission and renaming the national security law, which took effect in 1993, as the Counterespionage Law.

In 2010, four Japanese nationals were temporarily detained in China on suspicion of entering a military zone and taking photographs without permission. The detentions came at a time of escalating tensions between Tokyo and Beijing.

Last year, China’s then-ambassador to Iceland disappeared following reports he had been arrested by state security for passing state secrets for Japan. China has never explained what happened to him.

Sino-Japanese relations, colored by Japan’s occupation of parts of China before and during World War Two as well as rivalry for regional influence, have thawed since Abe met Xi twice since last November.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Additional reporting by Linda Sieg in TOKYO

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