Japan's navy said yesterday that an officer had illegally copied classified documents and repeatedly visited China to see a woman, in the latest twist to an espionage scandal between the Asian powers.
A newspaper said the woman worked at the same karaoke bar frequented by a Japanese diplomat whose suicide set off a bitter exchange of allegations between the countries.
In the latest case, the navy said the 45-year-old petty officer went to Shanghai eight times over a 15-month period without reporting his trips to his superiors.
The officer also illegally copied classified documents on CDs and kept them at his home on Tsushima base in southwestern Nagasaki Prefecture, a navy spokesman said.
Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe, the government spokesman, called for the Defense Agency to be vigilant in protecting information.
"The Defense Agency has information that could lead to serious damage to our country's security if leaked. I hope that the agency will make its utmost efforts to protect information," Abe told reporters.
Abe, a conservative who is the front-runner to be the next prime minister, said the Defense Agency did not inform the Cabinet about the incident.
The navy, known as the Maritime Self-Defense Force (MSDF), said it launched a probe but doubted the officer leaked information to China, whose ties with Japan have soured in recent years.
"Between the time he made the copies and MSDF investigators confiscated them, he did not go to China," a navy spokesman said. "We concluded that the officer did not take out the documents outside of the base and leak information."
The documents found included reference materials on how to identify foreign ships.
The secret trips and document copying were reported by separate whistle-blowers. The officer, who made his last visit to China in March, was transferred to another base.
The spokesman declined to confirm whether the bar was the same establishment linked to the death of the Japanese diplomat, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported.
"The MSDF does not have the means to investigate this case in China," the spokesman said.
The diplomat committed suicide in May 2004 after allegedly being wooed by a bar hostess and then pressured by a Chinese agent to divulge secret codes for communications.
Japan lodged a protest, with top officials labeling Chinese tactics as "ruthless." China has repeatedly denied the allegations and accused Japan of trying to stir up tension.
Friction has grown between the two countries, in part over China's charges that Japan has not atoned for its bloody 1931-1945 occupation. Asia's two largest economies also dispute lucrative gas and oil resources.