Japanese man convicted of spying by Chinese court

TOKYO — The Japanese government's top spokesman confirmed that a Japanese citizen was convicted Tuesday of spying in China by a Chinese court, but stressed that the case should not affect the two countries' sensitive relations that have recently started improving.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, responding to a reporter's question, confirmed that Japanese citizen Takahiro Iwase was sentenced Tuesday to 12 years in prison with forced labor by the Hangzhou Intermediate People's Court in Zhejiang. The court also ordered confiscation of all his personal assets.

Suga apparently avoided criticizing Beijing and said the two sides should make efforts so that the ruling does not undermine their improving relations. After years of disputes over territorial and historical issues, their ties are on the mend amid regional cooperation to denuclearize North Korea.

Suga denied reported Chinese allegations that Iwase was a public security official sent by the government to spy on China.

In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said she had no information about the matter but would check. China is a law-abiding nation that protects the rights and interests of foreign citizens, she said, adding the she believes "the unbiased and just handling of relevant cases will not affect the relations between our two countries."

Iwase was arrested in May 2015 near a military facility in the Zhejiang province on suspicion of spying. China has repeatedly warned of its vulnerability to foreign spies, and periodically detained Japanese citizens in alleged spying. Several other Japanese were also detained in 2015 on suspected spying.

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Associated Press writer Christopher Bodeen in Beijing contributed to this report.

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