TOKYO - (Reuters) - China is holding two Japanese in addition to two arrested earlier this year for spying, a Chinese official in Tokyo said on Thursday, but did not give further details, including whether they were also suspected of espionage.
The official at the Chinese embassy in Tokyo was speaking days before Japan, China and South Korea hold their first three-way summit in three years at the weekend.
Japan's Yomiuri newspaper said one of the people being held, a woman, was arrested in Shanghai in June. The other, a man, had apparently been helping people fleeing North Korea.
"In addition to the two who were arrested, one is being held and one is being watched at home," the official said, quoting an embassy spokesman and declining to give further details.
Asked about the two Japanese citizens being held, Lu Kang, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, told reporters he was not familiar with the specific situation.
Late last month, Japan confirmed that two Japanese had been in custody since May and that they were doing everything possible to free them. There were reports of a third being held but these remained unconfirmed.
Chinese President Xi Jinping has overseen a tightening of already strict security laws and regulations, including setting up a new national security commission and renaming the national security law, which took effect in 1993, as the Counterespionage Law.
In 2010, four Japanese nationals were temporarily detained in China on suspicion of entering a military zone and taking photographs without permission. The detentions came at a time of escalating tensions between Tokyo and Beijing.
Last year, China's then-ambassador to Iceland disappeared following reports he had been arrested by state security for passing state secrets for Japan. China has never explained what happened to him.
Chinese ties with Japan have long been troubled by a territorial dispute and what Beijing sees as repeated failures by Tokyo to properly atone for wartime atrocities.
(Reporting by Elaine Lies in TOKYO and Adam Rose in BEIJING; Editing by Nick Macfie)