Talks Wednesday between Japan and North Korea in Beijing will be working-level consultations, not at the level of director general as Japan had sought, Foreign Minister Koichiro Genba announced Friday.
“This is a request by the North Korean side,” Genba said.
The government had called on Pyongyang to hold a director general-level meeting, but North Korea asked Japan to send lower-level officials to their first governmental talks in four years.
Genba added he expects the talks to be upgraded to the level of director general in the future, depending on how they develop.
Japan believes North Korea’s request indicates it is reluctant to move forward on the abduction issue, an area where Tokyo is hoping to see progress, officials said.
The government had planned to send Shinsuke Sugiyama, director general of the Foreign Ministry’s Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, to the negotiations, and had assumed the North would be represented by Song Il Ho, its ambassador for talks to normalize diplomatic relations with Japan.
The two countries had characterized the meeting as a preliminary consultation to set the agenda and address procedural issues ahead of full-fledged talks.
Genba said the meeting could be extended by a day if necessary.
The main purpose of the meeting is to discuss what to do with the remains of thousands of Japanese who died in what is now North Korea during the upheavals before and after Japan’s defeat in World War II.
Although Japan also hopes to take up the abduction issue, North Korea has indicated an unwillingness to discuss the matter, with its official media accusing Tokyo of “politicizing” what it said were supposed to be talks devoted solely to the purely humanitarian issue of retrieving the remains.
North Korea has admitted abducting more than a dozen Japanese in the late 1970s and early 1980s, but it considers the issue closed after allowing five of the abducted Japanese to return home and saying the others had died.
Around 34,600 Japanese are believed to have died around the end of World War II in the northern part of the Korean Peninsula, and the remains of around 21,600 of those people are said to have been buried there. The Korean Peninsula was under Japanese colonial rule from 1910 to 1945.
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