Updated March. 18, 2014 05:51
Talks between North Korea and Japan are apparently picking up speed in the wake of a meeting between parents of Megumi Yokota, a Japanese woman kidnapped to the North, and their granddaughter, Kim Eun Kyong, in Mongolia from Monday through Friday last week.
Quoting a Japanese government source, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported on Monday that the North Korean and Japanese governments agreed to soon hold director-general level talks between their foreign affairs ministries over the issue of Japanese people kidnapped by Pyongyang.
At a working-level meeting between Red Cross of the two countries to be held in Shenyang, China on Wednesday and Thursday, the two sides are expected to reach an agreement on the resumption of director-general level talks between their foreign affairs ministries. The director-general level talks will likely take place in China or Mongolia in April.
Director-general level talks between the two countries foreign affairs ministries are thus set to take place for the first time in one year and 4 months since November 2012, when the Democratic Party was in power in Japan. It is the first meeting under the Shinzo Abe administration. Possible chief delegates for the two sides mentioned are Song Il Ho, the Norths ambassador for talks to normalize the Pyongyang-Tokyo relations, and Junichi Ihara, director-general for the Asia Pacific bureau at Japans foreign ministry.
At the director-general level talks, Japan is expected to strongly demand reinvestigation of Japanese citizens kidnapped by the North, an issue the two sides agreed in 2008. If a reinvestigation is conducted, whereabouts and current situation of 12 people, who have yet to return to Japan out of the 17 people who Japan admitted as its victims of kidnapping by the North, will likely become an issue of dispute.
While responding to Japans request, North Korea will likely demand easing of sanctions on the North and economic aid. Analysts say if the negotiations between the two sides progress seamlessly, Abes visit to North Korea and normalization of bilateral diplomatic ties could become plausible developments going forward.
However, critics raise concern that if the situation evolves as such, it could drive wedge to the international community including even China, which has forged a united front to impose sanctions against the North to halt Pyongyang from developing nuclear weapons and launching missiles. Notably, attention is focusing on responses by China, which has not accepted North Korean leader Kim Jong Uns visit to Beijing, and the U.S., which is maintaining strategic patience on the Norths provocations.
Diplomatic sources in Beijing told the Mainichi Shimbun that it is necessary to pay attention whether North Korea is approaching Japan with a tactic to make South Korea nervous or to bring the U.S. to the negotiating table. The Asahi Shimbun reported that to North Korea, the Abe administration that places top priority on resolving the issue of Japanese citizens kidnapped by the North, is a party the North can easily handle to some extent. It also said that with the effort to resolve the Norths nuclear weapons and missiles making little headway, North Korea can expect something in return just by displaying some progress in resolving the issue of abductees.
Japanese Prime Minister Abe has put utmost priority on resolving the issue of Japanese abductees in the North, and who took the lead in arranging reunion between Megumi Yokotas parents and their granddaughter from the North. He told reporters on Monday that the union was heartwarming and it was really great, adding that he would exert the utmost effort to completely resolve the issue of kidnap victims.
At a press conference on Monday, Shigeru, Yokotas 81-year-old father, and Sakie, her 78-year-old mother, commented on the union with their granddaughter, saying, It was like dream. We ate food that my granddaughter prepared with vegetables in person. On the question of whether Megumi Yokota is surviving, the couple said, We avoided talking about political matters. We believe that she is living sound and well.