A local Japanese politician known for his hardline views on sovereignty issues has been arrested in China while traveling in the country.
Takuma Sakuragi, a member of the Inazawa Municipal Assembly in Aichi prefecture, was arrested in China for allegedly carrying 3.3 kilograms of illegal stimulant drugs, local press reported over the weekend, citing an announcement from the Japanese Foreign Ministry and Inazawa government. China’s Foreign Ministry also confirmed that Sakuragi is in custody.
The arrest took place at Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport in Guangdong Province late last month but was only reported on in recent days. Sakuragi, who is 70 years old, was arrested by Chinese customs while trying to return to China. The illegal drugs, the exact nature of which haven’t been reported, were allegedly found in his suitcase. Sakuragi said he was in China conducting business for a trade company he runs.
Sources close to the local government told The Japan Times that Sakuragi had met with a Nigerian national while in China, apparently a business associate. According to the report, the Nigerian business man had given the Japanese politician the suitcase, which had contained the drugs.
Others take a different view of the case. South China Morning Post highlighted a Japanese-language news article that quoted a longtime associate of Sakuragi speculating that the case might have a political angle to it. Kenji Sasaki, a longtime associate, told Japanese media that Sakuragi has well-known hardline views on Japan’s territorial disputes with China and South Korea.
““I am very surprised (at the arrest). I can’t believe that he had stimulants,” Sasaki told local media.
Elsewhere he said “"There might be some political angle to this case.”
China and Japan are locked in a dispute over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands since Tokyo nationalized some of the isles. As part of this dispute Beijing has stepped up its pressure on individuals living in Japan, including a Chinese professor who teaches in Japan and is currently being detained by Chinese authorities.
Sakuragi is a five-time local assemblyman who was first elected in 1995.
His arrest could be deadly serious as China, like many Asian nations, has drug laws that are extremely harsh, at least compared to many other parts of the world. According to numerous news reports, possession of over 50 grams of stimulants in China carries a possible death sentence. Sakuragi was carrying six and a half times that amount.
Although Beijing doesn’t release exact numbers, it is widely suspected of putting more people to death each year than the rest of the world combined. The number of people it executes is believed to be treading downwards.
China has also not been shy about executing foreign nationals in enforcing its drug laws. Indeed, China executed four Japanese nationals in 2010 on drug smuggling charges. One of the men, 65, was executed for trying to smuggle 1.5 kilograms of methamphetamine out of China in 2006.
Beijing also executes African and Southeast Asian citizens fairly regularly on drug charges, and in 2010 put a British citizen to death over the strong objections of the U.K. government.
Japanese officials have confirmed that Chinese authorities plan to charge the man.
“At present, the local authorities are going through legal procedures to put him on trial,” a Japanese official said, according to local media reports.