China confirmed Monday that it is investigating six Japanese citizens, following a Japanese news report that Chinese authorities had detained six men possibly for spying.
Foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said at a regular briefing that six Japanese nationals are suspected of engaging in “illegal activities,” but did not give details.
Japan's Kyodo News reported earlier that three Japanese were detained in Shandong province and three in Hainan province - two regions with major Chinese naval facilities - in March.
Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Monday that China told Japan that authorities detained six Japanese in Hainan and Shandong provinces in March for violation of domestic law. He said he would not provide further details.
China has periodically detained Japanese citizens on suspicion of spying, including four in 2015.
Last December, a Chinese military-run newspaper lashed out at Kyodo for publishing photos of an under-construction aircraft carrier and suggested that the incident highlighted the need for China to better protect its military secrets, even though satellite images of the vessel were publicly available at the time.
China's government and state media have repeatedly warned of the country's vulnerability to foreign spies. Beijing, the capital, has encouraged neighborhood patrols and offered cash rewards of more than $70,000 for tips about foreign agents, while the national government has introduced an annual “National Security Education Day” and disseminated cartoon posters warning government workers to stay vigilant against attractive foreigners who might seek to seduce them.
China's government crippled a U.S. spy network in China by killing or imprisoning more than a dozen CIA sources between 2010 and 2012, The New York Times reported Sunday.
Hua, the foreign ministry spokeswoman, declined to comment about the Times article on Monday but said that as a general matter, China's state security apparatus investigates threats to national security and carries out its duties effectively and according to law.