Japan holds informal meeting with North Korea in an attempt to break the long-standing deadlock regarding the abduction of Japanese citizens in the past, according to sources familiar with the matter.
Efforts to Rekindle Diplomacy
While Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida initially intended to arrange a high-level meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, there seems to have been no further progress on that front, as per the sources. Japan and North Korea do not maintain diplomatic relations.
Reports suggest that Japanese officials reached out to North Korea in both March and May, but Kishida refrained from providing any details, citing the sensitive nature of the issue when questioned by reporters.
Foreign Minister Yoko Kamikawa and Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno, who also serves as the minister in charge of abduction-related matters, likewise refrained from clarifying the veracity of the meeting during separate press conferences on Friday, September 29th.
The Urgency of the Abduction Issue
The issue of North Korea’s abduction of Japanese citizens during the 1970s and 1980s remains highly pressing, particularly as the relatives of those who disappeared grow older.
In an event held in Tokyo in May, which aimed to repatriate abducted Japanese citizens, Kishida expressed his willingness to meet with Kim to resolve the matter. He called for high-level bilateral negotiations with North Korea under his direct supervision.
However, a Japanese diplomatic source noted that “there are rules against saying what actually happened,” implying that some form of contact may have taken place between the two countries.
The Japanese government has identified 17 of its citizens who were abducted by North Korean agents and suspects that Pyongyang may be involved in more cases of missing Japanese nationals.
Historic Declarations and Efforts
In September 2002, then-Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi visited Pyongyang and signed a historic declaration with Kim Jong-il, who was leading North Korea at the time.
Based on the Pyongyang Declaration, the two Asian nations agreed to make “every possible effort” to normalize their relations. Japan also pledged to extend economic cooperation to North Korea once diplomatic relations were normalized.
Koizumi achieved a significant milestone during his visit by securing North Korea’s first official apology for its state-sponsored abductions, which led to the repatriation of five abduction victims the following month.