China executed a Japanese citizen on Tuesday for drug smuggling, ignoring concern from Tokyo that the move, along with plans to execute three other Japanese, could inflame public opinion.
China’s official Xinhua news agency, in a brief report, said the sentence was carried out on Mitsunobu Akano on Tuesday morning in the northeastern province of Liaoning.
Akano is the first Japanese to be executed by China after the two countries normalised diplomatic relations in 1972, according to Japanese media.
Japan, which also has the death penalty, said the execution was regrettable but hoped the move would not harm bilateral ties.
“Because our judicial systems are different, Japanese people will naturally think that this (punishment) is too harsh, but people must understand that each country is different,” Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama told reporters.
“The government will do what it can to make sure that this does not cause a rift in Japan-China ties.”
Japanese Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada met Chinese Ambassador Cheng Yonghua on Friday and expressed concern about a possible Japanese backlash against plans for China to execute Akano and three other Japanese death-row inmates soon.
China also hoped that the move would not strain ties.
“We attach great importance to Sino-Japanese relations, and hope the case will not have any impact upon bilateral ties,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu told reporters.
While relations have improved of late, the two countries regularly clash over Japan’s wartime past in China and various territorial disputes.
In December, China executed a Briton, also for drug smuggling, prompting a British outcry over what it said was the lack of any mental health assessment.
Rights group Amnesty International believes China executes thousands of people every year. Beijing does not give a breakdown of the number of people it puts to death.
Japan, along with the United States, are the only two of the Group of Eight countries that conduct executions. A government poll showed in February that 86 percent of Japanese approve of the death penalty.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard and Huang Yan; Additional reporting by Yoko Kubota and Chisa Fujioka in Tokyo)