A researcher at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) was arrested by the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department (TMPD). The Chinese national was arrested on suspicion of violating the Unfair Competition Prevention Law (disclosure of trade secrets). He is accused of technology leaks, providing research data on advanced technologies to a Chinese company.
The unauthorized technology leaks could harm Japan's national interest by threatening its economic security. Moreover, the technology was leaked to China, whose technology thefts have been criticized by the international community. This crime is unforgivable. Such actions cannot be tolerated.
It is particularly alarming that this happened at an institution under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI).
Direct Ties to Chinese Institutions
The man was also a professor at Beijing University of Technology while working at AIST. That institution is one of China's "Seven Sons of National Defense." These seven schools are believed to have ties to the Chinese People's Liberation Army.
This technology theft happened despite the obvious precautions against information leaks. For a public institution involved in national projects to commit such oversight shows that a sense of crisis is entirely lacking.
It is evident that there were deficiencies in AIST's personnel management and information security. Staff members should be reevaluated to ensure they are not under the influence of foreign governments. In order to prevent any recurrence, AIST must necessarily overhaul its risk management system.
Where the Stolen Data Went
Senior researcher Quan Hengdao is suspected of having sent fluorine compound-related research data to a Chinese chemical manufacturing company via e-mail in April 2018. About a week later, the company allegedly applied for a patent in China with similar content to this data.
Under China's National Intelligence Law, companies can be compelled to provide information. We hope that the investigative authorities will uncover the full extent of the incident, including how the leaked data was subsequently handled.
Sanae Takaichi, minister of state for economic affairs and security, addressed the incident at a ministerial round-table meeting. Specifically, she requested thorough supervision at the ministerial level of economic and security crises at universities and research institutes under the jurisdiction of government agencies.
The government has recently tightened regulations on information security. However, whether the regulations are being properly enforced is another matter. Information management must be re-examined, and systems strengthened, including in the private sector.
Classifying Information to Reduce Risks of Theft
The government is also considering introducing a "security clearance" system. This would limit the handling of classified information to qualified personnel in the public and private sectors. Under this system, only Japanese nationals who have passed background checks would be eligible.
In addition, designating certain information as state secrets would prevent foreign operatives like Quan from accessing them. This would also bolster information security. We also hope to see the swift realization of a comprehensive and well-designed system.
Japan currently has no law to detect espionage and no full-fledged counterintelligence agency. In order to prevent technology theft, it will be necessary to consider not only existing legal systems but also anti-espionage legislation.
- Ending Technology Leaks: What Japan Can Do to Secure a Stronger Future
- Alleged Tech Leak to China 'Just the Tip of the Iceberg'
- Why Japan Needs a Security Clearance Mandate Now
(Read the editorial in Japanese.)
Author: Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun