DPRK’s invitation hints at a thaw in Japan ties

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DPRK’s invitation hints at a thaw in Japan ties

North Korea has invited about 60 Japanese politicians and officials to its national holiday of the 100th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il Sung, the nation’s first leader. Japan’s state-run NHK reported the invitations yesterday, raising speculation that the frosty relations between the two countries could thaw.

NHK said those invited to the celebration were former lawmakers or civil activists involved in North Korean affairs; they would stay in the North for about 10 days.

According to the state media outlet, some North Korean officials said they were hesitant about the invitation, but eventually relented.

“The invitation seems to be an attempt by North Korea to make a stepping stone in order to improve political relations and interactions [with Japan], although bilateral relations are now frozen because of the matter of [North Korea’s] abduction of Japanese,” NHK said.

NHK also reported last week that about 120 members of the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan, a pro-North Korea organization and the de facto North Korean embassy in Japan, have visited North Korea between late December and mid-January. They took about 70 million yen ($879,000) with them to the North, NHK reported, and some attempted to bring cooking equipment or seasonings, which are banned for export to North Korea because of Japan’s economic sanctions against the regime.

Japan and North Korea haven’t had any official talks since 2008 because of the abductions. The Japanese government suspects that at least 17 Japanese were abducted by North Korean agents in the 1970s and 80s, and demands that Pyongyang return them. When Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi visited the North in 2002, Pyongyang admitted some abductions but only repatriated five of those it had kidnapped. It said the others were already dead or had not been among those abducted by the North.

Kyodo News also reported yesterday that Japanese government officials made behind-the-scenes diplomatic contacts with North Korea in November to discuss the retrieval of remains of Japanese people who died in the North during World War II and build a cemetery for them. Kyodo cited “sources familiar with Japan-North Korea affairs.” Kyodo said North Korea “did not respond negatively to the idea” and called the proposed discussions a chance to “resume stalled bilateral talks aimed at resolving the long-standing issue.”

By Kim Hee-jin [heejin@joongang.co.kr]
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