China government urged to clarify rumour that Iceland envoy spied for Japan

Chinese ambassador to Iceland Ma Jisheng speaks during an interview in his residence in Reykjavik. China's Foreign Ministry refused to say on Sept 17, 2014 where its ambassador to Iceland was or who was even representing Beijing in the country, follo
Chinese ambassador to Iceland Ma Jisheng speaks during an interview in his residence in Reykjavik. China's Foreign Ministry refused to say on Sept 17, 2014 where its ambassador to Iceland was or who was even representing Beijing in the country, following reports he had been arrested by state security for passing secrets to Japan. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING (AFP) - A state-run Chinese newspaper on Thursday called on Beijing to clarify rumours that its ambassador to Iceland has been held for leaking intelligence to Japan, throwing a rare official spotlight on such cases.

The envoy, Ma Jisheng, left Iceland mysteriously in January and has not been replaced, with Beijing only telling Reykjavik that he was unable to return for "personal reasons", according to the Icelandic foreign ministry.

The Global Times, which is run by the ruling Communist Party's mouthpiece the People's Daily, urged Beijing to clear the air, citing the need to raise the awareness of espionage risks among the Chinese public.

Few spying cases involving Chinese officials have been reported in the domestic media, it said.

"In actuality, reporting such incidents will educate many people by letting them know how close those manipulators of overseas intelligence agencies are to us," the newspaper said in an editorial.

Hong Kong's Ming Pao daily, citing US-based Chinese-language website Mingjing News, reported that Ma and his wife "were suspected of giving state secrets to Japan and were arrested (in early February) by the Ministry of State Security."

Ma was a high-ranking diplomat in Japan from 2004-08.

The Chinese government has so far failed to shed light on Ma's whereabouts and a foreign ministry spokesman on Wednesday told reporters: "I have no information on this".

The Global Times argued that those engaged in espionage are increasingly likely to be caught due to advances in investigation technology.

"All the potential high-risk groups should recognise this point, which may help them refrain from selling information when they are about to cross the red line," it said.

"If it is confirmed that Ma has been caught, we hope that his story will one day appear on media to serve as a warning for others," the paper added.

Ming Pao said the Ma case, if confirmed, would mark the second case of an ambassador-level Chinese official caught in an espionage scandal.

In December 2006, China's then-ambassador to South Korea, Li Bin, was investigated and detained by state security authorities on suspicion of providing intelligence to Seoul. He was later sentenced to seven years in prison on economic charges, it said.