Government leaders lashed out Friday at Taku Yamasaki, a former vice president of the Liberal Democratic Party who is now out of office, and LDP lawmaker Katsuei Hirasawa for visiting China in an apparent bid to negotiate on the sly with North Korea over its abduction of Japanese nationals.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda stressed that talks between the two governments should be the only channel of negotiation on the issue.

Holding unofficial talks of this kind may send “the wrong message” to Pyongyang, Fukuda told a regular news conference Friday morning, when news of the trip broke.

The visit may exacerbate the situation, he added.

The government’s top spokesman claimed that he was unaware of the visit beforehand, stating that he plans to have the two LDP members explain their actions.

Separately, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said that neither Yamasaki nor Hirasawa, parliamentary secretary for home affairs and a senior official of a nonpartisan group of lawmakers examining the abduction issue, had notified him before their departure for China on Thursday.

Yamasaki lost his House of Representatives seat in the November general election, though he is still considered a close ally of Koizumi’s.

“It is a problem, since home affairs minister Taro Aso and the LDP were not aware of the visit,” Koizumi told reporters.

Senior vice ministers and parliamentary secretaries need to notify their minister and the Diet before taking an overseas trip when the Diet is in session.

Ryutaro Hirata, a senior official of a group working on behalf of the abductees and their relatives, noted that Hirasawa’s actions run counter to the group’s policy of ignoring any moves by North Korea via nongovernment channels.

“Everybody is upset by the situation,” he said.

Meanwhile, a senior government official said later Friday that best way for the government to react is to remain calm and play down the visit’s significance.

He noted that unofficial talks with North Korean officials by individual lawmakers in December, including Hirasawa, only led to confusion among relatives of the abductees and the lawmakers helping them.

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