Japan tight-lipped on report of meeting with North Korea in Mongolia

South Korean media reported that Japanese and North Korean representatives met in secret in Mongolia last month.
By Taejun Kang for RFA
2024.06.13
Taipei, Taiwan
Japan tight-lipped on report of meeting with North Korea in Mongolia Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshimasa Hayashi at a press conference at Prime Minister Fumio Kishida's residence in Tokyo, Japan, Dec. 14, 2023.
(Issei Kato/Reuters)

The Japanese government declined to comment on a South Korean media report that officials from Japan and North Korea had a secret meeting in Mongolia last month, saying it was aware of the report but would refrain from commenting due to the nature of the matter.

“We have been responding to North Korea through various channels, but I will refrain from answering due to the nature of the issue,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshimasa Hayashi said at a briefing on Thursday.

“As Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has said repeatedly, there is no change in the idea that we will proceed with high-level consultations at the prime ministerial level to realize a summit to resolve various issues between Japan and North Korea,” he added. 

South Korea’s JoongAng Ilbo daily reported on Wednesday that a North Korean delegation, including three officials from the Reconnaissance General Bureau and personnel responsible for earning foreign exchange, met a group of Japanese politicians in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, in the middle of last month, citing multiple intelligence sources.

Among the main obstacles to a normalization of relations between isolated North Korea and Japan is the issue of Japanese citizens abducted by North Korea over the decades to help North Korea train its spies.

Japan’s Kyodo News reported that Kishida was considering traveling to Mongolia in August with the abduction issue in mind and asking Mongolia for cooperation in advancing consultations with North Korea.

Hayashi also declined to comment on the Kyodo report, saying: “Nothing has been decided.”

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s powerful sister, Kim Yo Jong, said in March that Pyongyang had received a summit proposal from Japan. Her comments came a month after she said her country  was open to enhancing ties with Tokyo. 

However, Kim Yo Jong added that improving relations between the two countries would depend on whether Japan could make practical political decisions.

“If Japan continues to interfere in the exercise of our sovereign rights, as it is doing now, and continues to focus on the abduction issue, which it has no ability to resolve or even understand, the prime minister’s initiatives will inevitably be viewed as little more than popularity stunts,” she said.

Unacceptable

Japan  says it has confirmed the abductions of 17 of its citizens by North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s for language education for North Korean spies, and 12 are still in the North. 

North Korea has said that of the 12, eight had died, and four never entered North Korea, insisting that there is no issue to be resolved.

In February, Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Hayashi said assertions that the abduction issue had been resolved were “completely unacceptable.”

“Japan has not changed its policy of comprehensively resolving issues such as abduction and nuclear and missile programs on the basis of the Japan-North Korea Pyongyang Declaration,” he said.

The declaration was signed in 2002 after former Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi visited Pyongyang. 

It contained four sections: promoting talks on normalization of diplomatic relations, compensation based on reflection on past history, preventing the recurrence of “regrettable issues,” such as abductions, and establishing cooperation to resolve nuclear and missile issues.

Edited by RFA Staff.

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