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Japan calls for ASEAN support on North Korea abductees issue

Kyodo

Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida on Saturday called for support for an early resolution on its nationals abducted by North Korean agents, during a meeting in Myanmar with China, South Korea and Southeast Asian countries.

Kishida told his counterparts that Japan is carefully watching North Korea’s recent restart of its investigation into the decades-old abductees issue and suggested cooperation from other Asian countries is needed for its early resolution, according to a diplomat who participated in the meeting in Myanmar’s capital, Naypyitaw.

In early July, Japan lifted some of its unilateral sanctions on North Korea after Pyongyang launched a special committee to investigate the whereabouts of the missing Japanese.

Other major issues discussed by the foreign ministers of Japan, China, South Korea and the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations included tensions in the South China Sea and measures to help increase exchanges in the region, which is seen as the engine of the world’s economic growth, the diplomat said.

Some countries touched on China’s initiative to set up a new infrastructure bank in Asia, but Kishida said that given the existence of the Asia Development Bank, Japan sees no need to establish another similar institution in the region, according to the diplomat.

The annual meeting, hosted this year by Myanmar, provided a rare occasion for top Japanese, Chinese and South Korean diplomats to get together while Tokyo’s relations with Beijing and Seoul are at the lowest point in decades, due to disagreements over territorial and wartime-related issues.

Under these circumstances, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who took office for the second time in December 2012, has not been able to hold any formal talks with the leaders of the two countries.

Whether Kishida can create an environment with his two counterparts favorable to exploring the possibility of a one-on-one meeting between Abe and either Chinese President Xi Jinping or South Korean President Park Geun-hye later this year was being closely watched.

But Kishida did not have the chance to hold talks with the Chinese and South Korean foreign ministers on the sidelines of the regional meeting. This was partly because Kishida was late in arriving to the multilateral meeting following his talks with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, while the two other ministers had to leave in the middle of the multilateral gathering due to their respective schedules, the diplomat said.

Still, there is a possibility of a separate meeting between Kishida and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi being held, diplomats familiar with the situation said.

Kishida was due to meet with South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se later Saturday, according to Japanese officials. Kishida and Yun, who sat next to each other, shook hands soon after the ASEAN Plus Three meeting opened.

Kishida last held talks with Yun in September last year in New York, but he has not managed to convene an official meeting with Wang since the formation of Abe’s government.

ASEAN groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.