North Korean presence strengthens on city panel

KAWASAKI — The foreign residents’ advisory panel to the mayor of Kawasaki has agreed to add three resident North Koreans and a South Korean as observers to the body, correcting what has been criticized as a disparity in the representation of the two rival ethnic groups.

The new appointment made equal the number of pro-Seoul and pro-Pyongyang Korean participants, not including the South Korean chairman of the panel who is considered neutral by both parties. The North-South rivalry within the Kawasaki panel has drawn widespread attention as other local governments are now considering forming similar bodies of foreign residents. Ethnic Koreans in Japan, who number 670,000, constitute the single largest ethnic group in the country.

The Kawasaki Foreign Citizens’ Representative Conference is made up of 26 residents representing 17 nationalities, plus nine observers to three subcommittees. It was launched in December under a municipal ordinance as the first such panel in Japan.

The dispute over representation among the Koreans emerged soon after the panel’s creation. The North Korea-affiliated participants said its initial selection of members unfairly favored South Koreans. The municipal government then secretly promised to appoint three North Koreans as observers, but the move evoked strong opposition from the South Korean participants.