A top Japanese official has said the arrest of a Hong Kong student under the city’s national security law “undermined people’s trust in One Country, Two Systems,” after she allegedly posted pro-independence messages online whilst in Japan.

Beijing’s office in the city hit back, saying that Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno “inverts right and wrong.”

Hirokazu Matsuno
The Chief Cabinet Secretary of Japan Hirokazu Matsuno. File photo: 内閣官房内閣広報室, via Wikicommons.

Last week, Japanese media reported that Hong Kong police arrested a 23-year-old student in March for allegedly inciting secession under the Beijing-imposed national security law. The student reportedly published social media posts whilst she was studying in Japan.

“We demand that the freedom of speech and press be protected in Hong Kong, China, and we will continue to work closely with the international community to strongly urge the Chinese side,” Japanese minister Matsuno said at a Wednesday press briefing, according to Sankei Shimbun.

Addressing the student’s case, Matsuno added that the various moves by the Hong Kong authorities “such as the arrest of people related to the pro-democracy camp undermined trust in One Country, Two Systems.”

The security law applies to permanent residents and non-residents, as well as those outside of Hong Kong.

‘Stop intervening’

In response, China’s Office of the Commissioner of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Hong Kong said in Thursday statement that the Japanese official “publicly inverts right and wrong over Hong Kong’s national security law” with his speech.

The Commissioner's Office of China's Foreign Ministry in the Hong Kong SAR
The Commissioner’s Office of China’s Foreign Ministry in the Hong Kong SAR. Photo: Peter Lee/HKFP.

“The strict law enforcement by the Hong Kong police was entirely in line with legal requirements, their lawful duties, and legal procedures. It was a righteous act of safeguarding Hong Kong’s rule of law and social order. Any finger-pointing by foreign forces would be intolerable,” a spokesperson of the Beijing office said in the statement.

The spokesperson also urged Japan to “immediately stop intervening the internal affairs of Hong Kong and China with whatever reasons.”

First case in Japan

Multiple Japanese outlets, including NHK, JiJi Press, and Asahi Shimbun, cited sources last Thursday saying that the woman had been arrested. The outlets said the case marked the first time the Hong Kong national security law had been enforced in connection with acts on Japanese soil.

JiJi Press reported that the student was arrested in early March when she was on a temporary trip back to Hong Kong to renew her ID card. The messages in question were Facebook posts that were published around two years ago.

National security law
File photo: GovHK.

The Hong Kong police announced the arrest on March 9 and said the woman was suspected of inciting secession. She was released on bail a day later and will report to the police in mid-May.

According to Japanese media, the student had to hand over her passport to the police and therefore could not return to Japan.

Tomoko Ako, a professor at the University of Tokyo, first published details of the arrest in an op-ed on April 3. The scholar urged the student’s university to ensure her studies would not be interrupted by providing her with online teaching. She also warned that freedom of speech in Japan could shrink if similar incidents continued to happen.

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Peter Lee is a reporter for HKFP. He was previously a freelance journalist at Initium, covering political and court news. He holds a Global Communication bachelor degree from CUHK.