Taro Kono is arranging his first visit to South Korea next week as foreign minister, in a trip that will see him to try to influence the upcoming summit between the North and South Korean leaders, government sources said Monday.
Kono plans to meet South Korean President Moon Jae-in and request that he bring up the issue of North Korea’s abductions of Japanese nationals in the 1970s and 1980s in his April 27 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, the sources said.
Lacking a direct communication channel with Kim, Japan has apparently decided it must go through Moon to pursue a resolution to the abduction issue.
Kono’s trip to South Korea will be the first by a Japanese foreign minister since predecessor Fumio Kishida visited in December 2015, when Japan and South Korea signed a deal on the issue of so-called “comfort women,” a euphemism for the women who were forced to work in Japanese wartime military brothels. The Moon administration has since found fault with the deal and repeatedly said the matter cannot be resolved with the bilateral deal alone.
According to the sources, Kono also plans to meet with his counterpart, Kang Kyung-wha, and seek her cooperation in improving bilateral ties, which have been strained over the comfort women issue.
A Japanese government source said Kono plans to visit South Korea for two days, and the two governments have broadly agreed that it should take place at some point between April 9 and 13.
Kono is expected to ask Moon to tell Kim about Japan’s desire to confirm the status of the remaining abductees and have them immediately returned, the sources said.
He will explain to Moon about Japan’s previous attempts to get North Korea to confirm the abductees’ safety.
But it is unclear at this point how Moon might respond to Kono’s request to bring up the abduction issue.
Japan officially lists 17 citizens as having been abducted by North Korea, and suspects the country’s involvement in other disappearances.
Five of the 17 were repatriated in 2002, but Pyongyang maintains that eight have died and the other four were never in the country.
Kono is also expected to reiterate Japan’s call for South Korea to stick to the bilateral deal as a final resolution to the comfort women issue and to ask that the country not let historical issues impact bilateral coordination in dealing with North Korea.