The government is revamping its team on the abduction issue as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe seeks a breakthrough in its dealings with North Korea.
Japan has been pressuring North Korea to report on its latest investigation into the whereabouts of all Japanese residing in the country, part of a bilateral agreement intended to solve the mystery of what happened to several Japanese abducted decades ago by the North.
But no major progress has been reported despite the passing of what Japanese officials said was the September deadline for the report.
In his Cabinet reshuffle in early October, Abe appointed close aide Katsunobu Kato to state minister in charge of the abduction issue. Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker Koichi Hagiuda, another Abe confidante who is well-versed on the issue, serves as deputy chief Cabinet secretary.
The Foreign Ministry is moving to make a fresh start as well, replacing Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau chief Junichi Ihara, a familiar face in the negotiations, with Kimihiro Ishikane on Friday.
Northeast Asia Division Director Keiichi Ono is meanwhile expected to be transferred to the secretariat of the National Security Council, a body formed to speed up decision-making on diplomacy and defense, in November, while a senior official has been dispatched to the Japanese Embassy in Beijing from the government’s headquarters on the issue.
The changes were made despite perceptions that maintaining continuity is vital in moving the bilateral talks forward.
The family members of those abducted in the 1970s and 1980s have spent years pressuring the government to locate them, and some expressed worries.
Since taking office in 2012, Abe has pledged to resolve the abduction issue during his tenure. He is believed to be making preparations to launch a new team on the issue within his office so he can give instructions in a timely manner.
“Aside from the question of whether it’s good or not to have the prime minister’s office take control of the initiative, we want (the abduction issue) to be resolved as soon as possible,” said Shigeo Iizuka, head of the abductees’ family group.
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