Japan yesterday offered tangible benefits to impoverished North Korea if it clears up long-standing mysteries over the fate of Japanese nationals kidnapped decades ago.
Tokyo and Pyongyang are to hold working level talks in Beijing on Wednesday next week in the first face-to-face diplomatic meeting for four years, an event being seen as one of the most significant diplomatic forays for Kim Jong-un since he became leader of the reclusive state late last year.
“The abduction issue is a significant human rights problem and violation of sovereignty,” Japanese National Public Safety Commission Chairman Jin Matsubara said. “But if we can make a certain progress, Japan could give humanitarian aid, larger than other countries. North Korea and Japan, close geographically and historically, should be able to have a very good, mutually beneficial relationship.”
In 2002 Pyongyang admitted its agents had kidnapped Japanese nationals in the 1970s and 1980s to train its spies in Japanese language and customs.
North Korea allowed some of those snatched to return to Japan, but claimed the rest of them had died. Many believe the North is still holding Japanese nationals and Pyongyang’s perceived refusal to come clean has derailed efforts to normalize ties between the two countries.
Matsubara said there was a growing momentum on the issue, with next month marking the 10th anniversary of Pyongyang’s admission and the return of five abductees.
“North Korea now has a new regime led by Kim Jong-un. He has been seen to take diplomatic policy, including media strategies, in a different direction from the previous leader and he actually is doing so,” Matsubara said. “I believe North Korea’s new regime feels the need to have some kind of contact with Japan and to start formal government-level negotiations.”
The talks signal a slight thawing in frosty relations and will be carefully watched by Pyongyang’s neighbors and the West, anxious to see what path the untested young Kim chooses for the nuclear-armed North.
In the meeting initiated by Red Cross societies from both sides, officials are expected to discuss the repatriation of remains from Japan’s occupation of the peninsula, while Tokyo hopes to bring up the kidnapping issue.