Japan Responds Coolly to N.Korea Comments on Better Ties

This picture taken on February 8, 2024 and released by North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) via KNS on February 9 shows North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un (C) and his daughter Ju Ae (R) visiting the Ministry of National Defence in Pyongyang to mark the 76th founding anniversary of the Korean People's Army. Photo by KCNA VIA KNS / AFP

Tokyo, Japan -- Japan responded coolly on Friday to a suggestion from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's powerful sister that Pyongyang would be open to improving ties, with a long-running kidnapping issue a major obstacle.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has said he wants to change the relationship between Tokyo and Pyongyang, and Kim Yo Jong hinted on Thursday at a possible future invitation for the Japanese leader to visit North Korea.

Tokyo's top government spokesman said only that Japan was "paying attention" to Kim Yo Jong's comments.

"Kishida has said he wants to have negotiations... towards realising a summit with President Kim Jong Un," Yoshimasa Hayashi told reporters on Friday.

However, North Korea's "argument that the abduction issue has been resolved is fully unacceptable" he said.

Kim Yo Jong said in a statement on Thursday that relations had deteriorated "since Japan has persistently raised as a precondition (to talks) the abduction issue, which had already been settled".

However, the statement also said: "There will be no reason for the two countries not to become close and the day of the prime minister's Pyongyang visit might come."

North Korea admitted in 2002 that it had sent agents to kidnap 13 Japanese people in the 1970s and '80s who were used to train spies in Japanese language and customs.

The abductions remain a potent and emotional issue in Japan and suspicions persist that many more were abducted than have been officially recognised.

Contention over the issue could hinder progress towards a summit between Kishida and Kim Jong Un, said Masao Okonogi, a North Korea expert and professor emeritus of Keio University.

"It looks unlikely that things will move forward soon," he said, because "there's no benefit to Japan in holding a summit" if North Korea wants to ignore the abduction issue.

That was echoed by Daisuke Kawai, deputy director of the University of Tokyo's economic security research programme, who said there was a "clear misalignment" between the two countries on the issue.

"North Korea likely expects something in return for addressing the abduction issue," he told AFP.

"But there is nothing Japan can currently offer that would satisfy North Korea's demands without significant concessions, such as recognising North Korea's nuclear and missile programmes or easing sanctions."

Kishida expressed his wish to meet with North Korea's leader "without any conditions", saying in a speech at the UN General Assembly last year that Tokyo was willing to resolve all issues, including the kidnappings.

Kim Yo Jong's statement came days after Seoul announced it was restoring diplomatic ties with Cuba, a longtime ally of North Korea, which had been broken off since 1959.


© Agence France-Presse

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