DPJ to ship biscuits to North Korea in bid for talks

by Sayuri Daimon

Staff writer

In hopes of opening its own channel with Pyongyang, the Democratic Party of Japan will send 100,000 packages of ship biscuits to North Korea in May to ease its food crisis, party sources said Tuesday.

The DPJ hopes to use the shipment of emergency rations to take the lead in revving up stalled normalization talks with North Korea.

According to the Society for Promotion of Japanese Diplomacy, a fringe organization in the Foreign Ministry, ship biscuits are stockpiled at municipal governments in Tokyo and surrounding areas as disaster rations.

They have a shelf life of seven years, but because Japanese regulations set a five-year limit on food stocks, local governments renew their reserves every five years.

The DPJ plans to receive the biscuit stocks for free and send 100,000 of the 100-gram packages to North Korea via Niigata on May 21. The food aid will be transported by a ship owned by the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan (Chongryun).

To cover the shipping costs, estimated at nearly 5 million yen, the party will request donations from DPJ members and related organizations.

The plan has received the endorsement of the party’s executive board, and DPJ Diet members are planning a ceremony in North Korea to present the food later in May. “The party has been considering the idea for a while, but because of the intrusion of a North Korean spy ship into Japanese waters in March, we had to wait a while before carrying out the plan,” a party member said.

Despite the spy ship incident, efforts to improve ties between the two countries appear to be gaining momentum.

Former Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama is currently trying to arrange a visit to Pyongyang with a suprapartisan group of politicians. Political sources, however, said that may be difficult because Murayama is also requesting a meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il.

Meanwhile, the DPJ and the Social Democratic Party of Japan are also considering sending separate political missions to ease tensions between the two nations.

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura suggested Tuesday that Japan may resume chartered flights between North Korea and Japan that were banned after Pyongyang test-fired a missile over Japan in August.

He said the Japanese government may decide to resume the flights during a planned visit, possibly later this month, to North Korea by former Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama of the Social Democratic Party.

“But we haven’t made up our mind yet,” Komura told a press conference, adding that officials involved with the Murayama delegation are discussing the matter with officials from the Foreign and Transport ministries.

Japan canceled all Japan-North Korea charter flights after Pyongyang’s missile flew over northern Japan Aug. 31 and landed in the Pacific Ocean.