Tokyo reaches out to PyongyangTokyo appears to be using North Korea as political leverage amid a diplomatic impasse following the increasingly nationalistic moves of its rightist government, which has resulted in strained relations with its neighbors.
Japanese and North Korean officials met in secret over the weekend in Vietnam - the first time the two sides have met since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took office in late 2012, Japanese media reported.
The Tokyo Shimbun said yesterday that North Korea’s Ambassador Song Il-ho, in charge of relations with Tokyo and who headed the Pyongyang officials, met in Hanoi with Junichi Ihara, the director-general of the Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau.
The Asahi Shimbun further said that there were three Japanese officials, including Ihara, in attendance at the meeting. They are reported to have discussed Japanese abduction cases, among other issues.
The Tokyo Shimbun also reported that Ihara is likely to have requested a reinvestigation into the abduction of Megumi Yokota, a 13-year-old Japanese girl who was taken in 1977 by North Korea from the coastal city of Niigata in the Niigata Prefecture.
North Korea, in turn, is likely to have urged Japan to set straight its recognition of history during the colonial era and World War II.
However, Yoshihide Suga, Japan’s chief cabinet secretary, denied those reports yesterday at a press conference.
“We have heard of such reports, but they are not the truth,” he said. “Though Prime Minister Abe is fixed in his determination that the administration will resolve the abduction issue by itself, all possibilities are explored, and we are in the process dealing with the issue with full effort.”
When asked by a reporter if Japanese foreign affairs officials were in Hanoi on Jan. 25 and 26, Suga again avoided a direct answer.
“It is not known,” he stated.
A diplomatic source countered the cabinet secretary’s comments, however, claiming that there had already been under-the-table negotiations in regard to the abduction of Japanese citizens between Japan and North Korea. “Both sides have agreed to deny their meeting,” the source said.
The Abe administration was driven into a corner following the prime minister’s controversial visit to the Yasukuni Shrine on Dec. 26, which resulted in a backlash from its neighbors and Washington.
According to another Japanese source, Japan may be seeking a breakthrough with North Korea in order to rectify the situation.
“Japan did not notify Korea or the U.S. about the meeting with North Korea,” the contact said.
BY KIM HYUN-KI [firstname.lastname@example.org]