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Japan-North Korea hostage talks bring South Korea to the table

Publication Date : 13-08-2014


Instead of making the first talks between Japanese and North Korean foreign ministers since 2004 a formal occasion, the Japanese government eventually decided on an informal approach. Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida therefore had informal talks with North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Su Yong on Sunday to exchange views on the new investigation into the fate of Japanese nationals in the country, including those abducted by North Korean agents, at the venue for an Asean Regional Forum meeting in Myanmar.

When formal talks were held in 2004 between the foreign ministers, a focal point was whether the family of Hitomi Soga, one of the abductees who returned to Japan in 2002, could visit Japan. An individual involved with the issue at the time said the Japanese government chose to hold a formal meeting because it “had the meaning of testing the seriousness of North Korea” to solve the issue.

The decision to take an informal approach to the latest foreign ministerial meeting was made partly out of consideration to South Korea, which has been expressing concerns over closer ties between Japan and North Korea, in addition to the announcement of the first report on the new investigation into the abduction issue which is scheduled for the intergovernmental talks in early September.

North Korea has regarded South Korea’s Park Geun-hye administration with hostility. A senior official from the Japanese Foreign Ministry said, “North Korea has nothing to discuss with South Korea.” Foreign ministers from South and North Koreas hence did not make contact during a series of meetings in Naypyitaw.

According to a South Korean government source, Seoul is becoming more concerned about progress in the Japan-North Korea talks. “There are voices in South Korea that the country will be left behind,” the source said. Some were even saying that if Japan and North Korea try to make further contact, it would be necessary to hold a foreign ministerial meeting between South Korea and Japan. In the end, South Korea’s cautious stance increased support for the first foreign ministerial meeting between Japan and South Korea in 11 months.

In Naypyitaw, Chinese and North Korean foreign ministers also held talks though their relations had been seen as distant. Some observers say that Japan and North Korea’s efforts to reach out are delicately influencing international relations in East Asia.


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