BEIJING – Senior officials in the North Korean government in charge of diplomatic affairs with Japan have declared as “invalid” a 2014 bilateral agreement that led to Pyongyang reopening an investigation into the whereabouts of Japanese nationals abducted by North Korea, it was learned Friday.
People who have recently visited Pyongyang and met with the senior officials concerned made the disclosure regarding the thorny issue that has dogged ties between Japan and North Korea for years.
The stance appears aimed at sending the message to Tokyo that Pyongyang has no intention of making concessions on the abduction issue.
The senior officials stressed the need to return to the “Japan-DPRK Pyongyang Declaration” signed in September 2002 by former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. They also reiterated Pyongyang’s official position that the abduction issue has been settled.
Under the deal struck in Stockholm in May 2014, Tokyo and Pyongyang agreed on principles for negotiations toward settling the abduction issue, and that North Korea would comprehensively reinvestigate the fate of Japanese abducted by the North decades ago through its own panel.
The senior officials said that the Special Investigation Committee, which was established under the Stockholm agreement, comprehensively examined abductee victims, Japanese who stayed on the Korean Peninsula after World War II, Japanese wives and the remains of Japanese nationals, and notified Japan of all the results.
“The Japanese government has not properly communicated (the results of the probe) to the people,” one of the senior officials was quoted as saying.
The agreement, they say, was effectively voided by the Japanese side as a result of its subsequent actions such as restarting sanctions in response to North Korea’s continued nuclear and missile tests.
Japan maintains that without settling the abduction issue, there will be no normalization of diplomatic ties.
North Korea, on the other hand, insists that Japan must “settle the past,” or compensate for the suffering of the Korean people under Japan’s 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula, before the two countries settle the abduction issue.
“Sanctions and dialogue are incompatible,” one of the senior officials was quoted as saying, indicating that the lifting of Japan’s sanctions is a condition for the resumption of dialogue.
It was recently reported that Shigeru Kitamura, head of the Cabinet Intelligence and Research Office, visited Vietnam in July in an attempt to make contact with Kim Song Hye, head of the united front tactical office of the North Korean ruling party’s United Front Department.
If Kim responded to the outreach, there is a possibility that the Unified Front Department, which is in charge of the country’s negotiations with the United States, attempted to explore developments in Japan.
In the Pyongyang Declaration, Japan apologized for its past colonial rule over the Korean Peninsula and promised to provide economic assistance to North Korea once diplomatic relations are normalized.
Japan officially lists 17 nationals as having been abducted by North Korean agents in the 1970s and 1980s but alleges their involvement in many more disappearances.
Five of the 17 were repatriated in 2002.