China’s foreign ministry is refusing to answer questions about what happened to its ambassador to Iceland after reports surfaced that he’d been detained for giving national security secrets to Japan.
Citing anonymous Chinese officials, New York-based Chinese-language site Mingjing News first reported on Tuesday that Ma Jisheng was arrested by state security on suspicion of espionage. The report said that Ma was accused of providing secrets to Japan while he worked at the Chinese embassy in Tokyo from 2004 to 2008, and that he’d been taken away with his wife, Zhong Yue, earlier this year.
After being picked up by Hong Kong-based newspaper Ming Pao, the report began spreading through mainland media, although many articles linked to his arrest were later taken down, Reuters said.
When asked to confirm the report, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said, “I have no information on this”. Hong remained mum on the subject when asked where Ma was and who was taking over for him if he was no longer there.
Ma served as secretary at the Chinese embassy in Tokyo in the mid-90s and later as commissar in Tokyo from 2004 to 2008. Publicly, of course, he seemed to take on a pretty typical Chinese sentiment towards Japan. Quartz points out that in February, he wrote an editorial for an Icelandic newspaper criticizing Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to the Yasukuni Shrine at the end of last year.
However, Ma’s extended absence from Reykjavik was first pointed out by the Icelandic newspaper Grapevine earlier this month. A spokeswoman for Iceland’s foreign ministry stated in May that Ma would not return to his post “for personal reasons,” Reuters reports, adding that Ma’s bio on a website for the Chinese embassy in Iceland now shows up blank.
The Japanese government likewise refused to comment on the matter.
“We are aware of the media report,” an official told Reuters. “But it’s basically China’s domestic issue and therefore the Japanese government would like to refrain from commenting.”
[Image: PRC via Quartz]