Japan and North Korea held unofficial consultations over the weekend, with Tokyo demanding a thorough investigation into the abductions of its nationals, it was learned Sunday.

The two sides are also believed to have discussed the schedule for their upcoming bilateral talks.

The two days of talks, which involved senior ministry officials Hitoshi Tanaka, director general of the Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, and Kenji Hiramatsu, director of the Northeast Asia Division, began Saturday in Beijing, government officials said.

The two officials are believed to have discussed when and how the relatives of Japanese citizens abducted by North Korea can visit the country. Japan wants the visits to take place as soon as possible.

They also apparently demanded more information on Hitomi Soga, a woman who disappeared with her mother in 1978 from Sado Island in Niigata Prefecture. She is believed to be the fifth surviving abductee.

The two sides also discussed the schedule for resuming normalization talks. In their landmark summit last Tuesday, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and North Korean leader Kim Jong Il agreed to resume them by the end of October. The talks have been suspended for two years.

The two countries are also discussing the schedule for the first meeting of a bilateral security consultative body. Tokyo wants to take up the abduction cases as a security issue, with an eye to holding the meeting by the end of next month.

The two Foreign Ministry officials were among those who accompanied Koizumi to North Korea to the summit, which was the first ever between the two nations.

At the summit, Kim made the surprise move of admitting to and apologizing for North Korea’s abduction of Japanese nationals in the 1970s and 1980s. He also admitted that his country has operated spy ships.

The apology, however, did not placate the families and lawmakers supporting them, since more than half of the abductees were said to be dead.

Though he has gained public support for the summit, Koizumi faces growing public resentment over the abduction issue. He also has to deal with opposition to prematurely normalizing ties with and offering economic aid to the country.

On security issues, Kim also agreed to extend an internationally promised moratorium on missile testing beyond 2003 and to abide by international nuclear pacts.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.