[Officials from Japan and North Korea held their first government-to-government talks in four years in Beijing on Wednesday, amid hopes that new leader Kim Jong Un will adopt a less confrontational approach to relations with the outside world. Taking steps toward rapprochement between Japan and the DPRK could see a re-engagement of Japan in humanitarian aid to North Korea, and a resolution to the outstanding abductee issue. The following article appeared in Singapore’s Channel NewsAsia on 24 August 2012, based on an AFP story. –CanKor]
Rewards await N.Korea for kidnap progress: Japan
TOKYO: Japan on Friday 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 will hold working level talks in Beijing on Wednesday in the first face-to-face diplomatic meeting for four years, an event 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,” state minister Jin Matsubara told reporters.
“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 five of those snatched and their family members to return to Japan, but claimed the rest of them had died.
However, many believe the North is still holding Japanese nationals and Pyongyang’s perceived refusal to come clean has derailed efforts to normalise ties between the two countries.
Tokyo has officially said 17 Japanese nationals were kidnapped, including Megumi Yokota who was taken away when she was 13.
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 neighbours 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 as well.
The meeting comes as ties between Japan and South Korea are at a low ebb, with the two countries at loggerheads over a pair of disputed islets.
Many in the international community are keen for Pyongyang to return to the six-party talks on denuclearisation that it abandoned in December 2008.
The talks, which group the two Koreas, the United States, Japan, Russia and China, envisage a peace treaty and other benefits if the North scraps its atomic weapons programme.
North Korea’s launch of a long-range rocket on April 13 heightened regional tensions and sank a deal with the United States reached on February 29.
Under that agreement, the North had agreed to freeze its uranium enrichment plant and suspend nuclear and missile tests, while the United States promised 240,000 tonnes of food aid.
The United States and its allies described the rocket launch as a disguised missile test, while the North said its aim was only to put a satellite into orbit. The rocket failed soon after takeoff.