A top Japanese official has traveled to Beijing in an apparent effort to resume stalled normalization talks between Tokyo and Pyongyang, it was learned Sunday.

Hitoshi Tanaka, director general of the Foreign Ministry’s Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, was in China over the weekend, and although details of his movements were unclear, the sources said he was in contact with North Korean negotiators in Dalian and discussed restarting the talks.

Japan has conveyed to Pyongyang its intention to hold a preparatory meeting by the end of the month. It is unknown, however, whether Tanaka’s visit is part of the preparatory meeting or an effort to arrange the next round of negotiations.

In normalization talks in Kuala Lumpur on Oct. 30, the two countries agreed to set up in November a panel for senior working-level officials to discuss security issues, including the North’s missile and nuclear weapons programs.

The North also proposed holding the next round of normalization talks in late November, but Japan said it would take the matter home to consider it.

Tokyo is now urging Pyongyang to send to Japan the families of five Japanese who had been abducted to North Korea and are now back in Japan on homecoming visits. Japan considers this is a precondition for resuming normalization talks, but Pyongyang has not complied.

The normalization talks are to follow the landmark summit between Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and North Korean leader Kim Jong Il in Pyongyang on Sept. 17. Tanaka was credited with pulling off the summit in a bid to move Japan-North Korea relations forward.

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