BEIJING – An adviser to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe secretly visited the northeastern Chinese port city of Dalian, not far from North Korea, for about four days in late October, diplomatic sources said, adding fuel to recent speculation that Tokyo has resumed delicate negotiations with Pyongyang.
Given that the Chinese city has been used as a venue in the past for secret meetings between Japan and North Korea, it is possible that adviser Isao Iijima made contact with North Korean officials there.
His visit to Dalian was confirmed by several diplomatic sources in Beijing after Japanese senior diplomats were found to have traveled to Vietnam in late January for a possible meeting with North Korean officials.
Amid Japan’s soured ties with China and South Korea over territorial and historical issues, the sources said that behind-the-scenes negotiations between the Abe administration and North Korea have become active.
There is some information that Iijima might have met with Chinese officials as well in the major port city, which is connected with Japan by direct flights but easier to avoid drawing media attention than Beijing.
Iijima visited Dalian at a time when the fate of the headquarters site and building used by Chongryon, the pro-Pyongyang group that serves as North Korea’s de facto mission in Japan, was up in the air after they were put up for auction.
The visit came on the heels of a Mongolian company’s winning bid on Oct. 17 for the property.
Despite the winning bid, the site of the de facto embassy is still in use by the group, which is also known as the General Association of Korean Residents, after the Tokyo District Court recently rejected the company’s offer to buy the property, saying that some of the documents submitted by the firm for the auction included too many discrepancies.
Iijima made an unexpected trip to Pyongyang last May for talks with senior North Korean officials, during which he was asked for help to let Chongryon officials continue to use the headquarters.
If Iijima met with any North Korean official in October, it is almost certain that the fate of the de facto embassy was discussed.
Iijima was a top aide to Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and accompanied him for talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il in September 2002 and May 2004 in Pyongyang.
After returning from Pyongyang last year, Iijima called for talks between Abe and new leader Kim Jong Un to achieve a breakthrough over the North’s abduction of Japanese nationals in the 1970s and 1980s.
The resolution of that issue has been one of Abe’s most important political goals.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Japan views an attack by North Korea on the United States as a case in which it could exercise the right to collective self-defense.
It is the first time Abe has publicly named a country against which the right to come to the defense of allied nations under armed attack could be exercised. A government panel is discussing whether Japan should exercise the right by changing the government’s current interpretation of the pacifist Constitution.
At a Diet committee session Monday, Abe also said, “When the international community imposes economic sanctions, we also have to discuss whether we should prevent weapons and ammunition from being transported to North Korea.”
Abe was apparently referring to the possible deployment of the Self-Defense Forces or the Japan Coast Guard to inspect vessels destined for North Korea as a means of collective self-defense even if Japan itself is not under attack.
“I shouldn’t have named a specific country. But I presented North Korea as an example to ensure my story is understood more easily,” Abe said during the Lower House Budget Committee session, in which he was questioned by opposition lawmakers.