The new head of the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan (Chongryon), a pro-Pyongyang group, says the association sees the need to adapt to the demands of the younger generation and is ready to promote exchanges with the pro-Seoul Korean Residents Union in Japan (Mindan).

In an interview with Kyodo News, So Man Sul said, “Sentiments and needs are changing” along with generational changes. “We need to work out action plans to deal with this.”

Discussing the changes taking place in Japan’s Korean community, So said, “Formerly, Korean residents in Japan were simply classified as those belonging to Chongryon and Mindan.

“Nowadays, every year, around 10,000 are changing their nationality to Japanese and an increasing number of them are marrying Japanese. Some do not belong to either organization,” he said.

Chongryon was established in May 1955 with the aim of providing support to North Korea, working for peaceful unification of the two Koreas and protecting the rights of North Koreans in Japan.

Operating regional chapters and a variety of other groups, it is believed to have influence over about 200,000 of the roughly 500,000 North and South Korean residents of Japan.

This was the 74-year-old So’s first media interview since he was elected leader of Chongryon at its general assembly in May, taking over from its original head, Han Tok Su, who died in February aged 94.

At the general assembly, Chongryon also came up with a new policy to reach out to a broad range of residents who are conscious of their ethnic origins.

On relations with Mindan, So said barriers exist between the two groups, such as their positions on whether to enfranchise permanent foreign residents of Japan, a majority of whom are Koreans. Mindan favors the change while Chongryon is against it.

However, So said, “We are prepared to make efforts to promote exchanges with Mindan in the spirit of the North-South joint declaration” signed June 15, 2000, by South Korean President Kim Dae Jung and North Korean leader Kim Jong Il.

So said the joint declaration has generated hopes of increasing exchanges, and local chapters of Mindan and Chongryon have been holding joint events.

“There are also many young people who would like to see next year’s World Cup soccer games (cohosted by Japan and South Korea), and we want to consider what we as an organization can do for them,” he said.

Asked his opinion on the contentious history textbooks for Japanese junior high schools, he said, “Some people may question why a foreign country intervenes in (the authorization of) Japanese textbooks, but we question why historical facts should not be taught as facts.”

The two Koreas and China have criticized Japan for authorizing textbooks that they say do not accurately represent history, especially concerning Japan’s aggression toward its Asian neighbors before and during World War II.

On stalled Japan-North Korea normalization talks, So said Pyongyang’s relationship with Tokyo is “unnatural,” while North Korea is normalizing ties with many other capitalist countries.

He blamed Japan for pressing for resolutions on such issues as missing Japanese who were believed to have been abducted by North Koreans, claims that he says are groundless.

“If there is any misunderstanding over these issues, they should be resolved during normalization talks or after normalization is achieved,” he said.

On the collapse of credit unions for North Koreans, So said all such financial institutions could be gone unless they work out a plan to salvage them by next March, when Japan will lift its policy of offering full deposit insurance coverage, as depositors are likely to step up moving money to financially solid institutions.

“We believe there will be a new breed of union to be established by the end of this year,” So said, adding that those concerned are now doing their best to work out a restructuring plan.

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