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China releases North Korean defector accused of spying, report says

A Japanese national who was brought into custody in 2015 at the Chinese border city of Dandong on charges of spying has been freed, according to a Japanese press report. File Photo by Stephen Shaver/UPI
A Japanese national who was brought into custody in 2015 at the Chinese border city of Dandong on charges of spying has been freed, according to a Japanese press report. File Photo by Stephen Shaver/UPI | License Photo

July 2 (UPI) -- A North Korean defector of Japanese nationality has been released from Chinese detention after serving five years in prison for espionage, according to a Japanese press report.

The man, who was brought into custody in 2015 at the Chinese border city of Dandong on charges of spying, has been freed and is planning to return home to Japan, Yomiuri Shimbun reported Thursday.

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The man was likely among at least two with Japanese passports reported by the Yomiuri to be arrested in 2015.One man was apprehended after allegedly trying to fraudulently open a bank account, and was suspected of assisting North Koreans in China, a group that Beijing does not recognize as refugees. The unidentified man was placed "under surveillance at his residence", which Yomiuri's sources said at the time means he was detained at a hotel or another location.

A second man was arrested while assisting North Korean defectors in the Chinese city of Dandong near the North Korean border. At the time, the man was described as being of Korean and Japanese ancestry. He was repatriated to North Korea in the 1960s with his family, but later defected in the 1990s, resettling in Japan in 2001.

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On Thursday, the Yomiuri described the released prisoner as a 59-year-old defector and a native of Kanagawa Prefecture. He was released from a Chinese prison located in the northeastern city of Dalian, in Liaoning Province, according to the report.

In 2015, China arrested multiple Japanese citizens, including a woman who was identified as a naturalized citizen originally from China.

Migration out of North Korea has declined dramatically in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Pyongyang has also raised tensions with the South by targeting a U.S.-South Korea working group.

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Yonhap reported Thursday Seoul's foreign ministry disclosed its intention to dispel concerns about the working group domestically, and that the issue was raised during a recent meeting between U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun and his South Korean counterpart Lee Do-hoon.

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