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Hibiki Momose (centre), a Hokkaido University of Education professor, leads a group in the submission of a petition to the Chinese consulate general asking it to help bring back Chinese scholar Yuan Keqin, whose whereabouts have been unknown for more than six months. Photo: Kyodo

In Japan, fears grow that Chinese academic has been detained on the mainland

  • Yuan Keqin, who teaches at the Hokkaido University of Education, has been missing since June when he returned for his mother’s funeral in Changchun
  • His colleagues and students last week submitted a proposal to the Chinese consulate general in Sapporo requesting that he be permitted to return
A Chinese academic who taught at a Japanese university has not been seen since June last year when he returned to the mainland for his mother’s funeral, raising concerns he may have been detained by Chinese authorities.
Students of Yuan Keqin and his colleagues at the Hokkaido University of Education on January 23 submitted a petition to the Chinese consulate general in Sapporo requesting that he be permitted to return to Japan.

They attempted to hand the petition to an official of the consulate general, but diplomats said they were unable to meet the group or accept the petition in person as no appointment had been made, so the petition was placed in the postbox.

“We all hope that Professor Yuan will return safe and as early as possible,” Yuan’s colleague Hibiki Momose, who led the group, said to reporters.

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In July, Hokkaido University of Education officials were contacted by Yuan’s wife and were told he was being treated for an illness in the Chinese city of Changchun.

“There has been word that Professor Yuan was being treated for high blood pressure, but since then there has been no more communication,” said Professor Akihiro Iwashita, a colleague of Yuan’s, in a statement at the time.

The Chinese foreign ministry in July said it had no information on the whereabouts of Yuan. His wife is also no longer in contact with the university or his friends.

Born in Changchun in 1955, Yuan earned his doctorate at Tokyo’s Hitotsubashi University and specialises in East Asian politics, the history of World War II and international relations in East Asia. He has been granted permanent residency in Japan.

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Concerns have been growing about Yuan after Japanese professor Nobu Iwatani was detained in China in September. Also a professor of history, Iwatani specialises in the history of the second Sino-Japanese War and is an authority on the Nationalist Party. He was released immediately before a three-way summit between China, Japan and South Korea in December.

In an opinion article printed in the Mainichi newspaper last week, Ken Endo, dean of the Hokkaido University Graduate School of Public Policy and a friend of Iwatani, said the detention of academics indicates that “China’s oppressive nature shows no signs of weakening”.

He pointed out that “dozens” of Japanese nationals have been arrested and convicted since China introduced sweeping new espionage legislation in 2014, along with Chinese nationals living in Japan but paying visits to their homeland.

“Now, Beijing detains anyone whom it considers to have a negative effect on the maintenance of its regime, and the threshold for such a move is getting lower,” he wrote.

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This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Professor from Hokkaido university feared missing after visiting mainland