The Japanese government has criticised China’s tightening grip on Hong Kong, saying in a written reply to a politician’s question in its parliament, the Diet, that it “cannot tolerate mass arrests”. The government statement, issued on Wednesday, reiterated the importance of economic and personal ties between Japan and Hong Kong , adding that Tokyo had “grave concerns” at the situation in the city. In 2019, Japan was Hong Kong’s fourth largest trading partner with total trade between them that year reaching HK$373 billion. The statement said Japan had communicated its position to Beijing and was working with allied countries on the issue. The statement was issued in response to a formal request for the government to make its position on the situation in Hong Kong clear from Jin Matsubara, a former chairman of the National Public Safety Commission and presently a member of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, the centre-left largest opposition party. “Hong Kong is an extremely important partner for our country, with close economic and human relations, and it is our consistent position that Hong Kong’s democratic and stable growth is important,” the government statement said. To date, 97 people have been arrested – eight of them charged – under the national security law that was passed by Beijing on June 30 last year. Beijing has defended the law as necessary to bring back stability to the city, which prior to the law’s implementation had been rocked by months of anti-government street protests. However, it has been widely criticised overseas, with opponents claiming the four offences it creates – secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces – are so widely defined that they could be used to stifle civil liberties. “The situation in Hong Kong after the enforcement of the national security law that you mentioned casts serious doubts on the respect of basic values, such as freedom of speech, freedom of the press and other values that are the cornerstone of the ‘one country, two systems’ that has supported Hong Kong’s prosperity,” the government statement said. “In light of the aforementioned position, our country cannot tolerate the ‘mass arrests’ that you mentioned and our grave concern is increasing. Carrie Lam faces Japan bank freeze-out as Tokyo says it will abide by US sanctions “Our country has conveyed these positions and concerns to China ,” the statement added, concluding that Japan had been addressing the matter with other countries, including the G7 states, and was a signatory to the G7 Foreign Ministers’ Statement on Hong Kong in June last year. “We will continue to tackle the issue along with countries concerned,” it concluded. Robert Dujarric, co-director of the Institute of Contemporary Asian Studies at the Tokyo campus of Temple University, said the statement was “unusually forceful”, and almost certainly designed to back up Washington’s increasingly strident criticism of human rights abuses in China. “The new administration in the United States clearly cares about human rights issues, in contrast to its predecessor, and Japan is very much aware that it needs US support and therefore does not want to be on a different page on this issue,” he said. Tokyo has already secured clear support from the US on the issue of disputed islands in the East China Sea, known as the Senkakus in Japan but claimed by China, which refers to them as the Diaoyus, and Tokyo’s backing for Washington on Chinese human rights goes some way to returning that favour, Dujarric said. In a second reply to a question from Matsubara concerning banking regulations, the government confirmed that financial institutions were by law required to confirm the beneficiaries of international transactions. He has previously suggested that members of the Chinese Communist Party and other senior officials are surreptitiously putting funds into Japanese bank accounts or purchasing assets, such as property, in Japan. Will Japan PM Suga’s latest moves help Tokyo take Hong Kong’s finance crown? Matsubara has been a vocal critic of the Chinese government’s actions in Hong Kong and is also awaiting a formal comment from the Japanese government on its position concerning Beijing’s treatment of ethnic Uygurs in Xinjiang . That statement is expected on Friday.