Officials from Japan and North Korea met yesterday for a second day of talks, a Japanese official said, as the countries seek to find enough common ground for possible future discussions at a higher level.
Diplomats from the two countries, which have no formal diplomatic relations, began meeting yesterday at North Korea’s embassy in Beijing shortly before midday, according to the official, who declined to be named.
The meeting ended after a little less than two hours and the two sides were keeping in touch, though it was unclear if they would gather again, the official said.
North Korea and Japan held their first face-to-face encounter in four years on Wednesday at Japan’s embassy. Diplomats met for nearly three hours and engaged in a “matter-of-fact and frank” exchange of opinions, a Japanese briefing said.
Japan has characterized the talks in Beijing by relatively junior officials as a way to prepare for possible higher-level meetings at a later date to address key issues that have prevented the countries from having formal diplomatic relations.
The meetings are being closely watched as diplomats and experts try to ascertain whether North Korea’s foreign policy could change under new leader Kim Jong-un.
Kim took over leadership of the communist state after his father Kim Jong-il died in December.
Japan is keen to discuss the fate of citizens abducted by North Korean agents, amid suspicions in Japan that Pyongyang has failed to provide all the information it has.
“The abduction issue is among the most important of the various problems between Japan and North Korea,” Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura said yesterday at a press conference in Tokyo. “As a matter of course, there won’t be any change in our stance that we want to discuss it.”
North Korea admitted in 2002 its agents kidnapped Japanese in the 1970s and 1980s to help train spies by teaching them Japan’s language and culture.
Five of the hostages were allowed to go back, but another eight died, though many in Japan hold out hope they remain alive. There are also suspicions that Pyongyang’s agents abducted more Japanese than it has admitted.
Japan says North Korea agreed to reopen investigations into the abducted Japanese when the two sides last met in 2008.
Jin Matsubara, Japan’s state minister for the abduction issue, said last week that progress could yield big dividends in humanitarian aid.
Impoverished yet highly militarized North Korea remains suspicious of Japan, which is a close military ally of the US.
Pyongyang also regularly blasts Japan for its colonization of the Korean peninsula in the first half of the 20th century and treatment of ethnic Koreans in Japan.
Another issue involves the remains of 21,000 Japanese who died during World War II and are believed to be buried in North Korea.