BEIJING - A top North Korean diplomat has essentially acknowledged that North Korea and Japan made contact in July in Vietnam, but said no substantial progress was made toward summit talks between the two country’s leaders.
The disclosure was made Saturday to Kyodo News by Shingo Kanemaru, the second son of the late Shin Kanemaru, who was a prominent politician and former Liberal Democratic Party vice president who had worked to establish diplomatic relations between the two countries in the 1990s.
Kanemaru, 73, held talks with Song Il Ho, North Korea’s ambassador for negotiations to normalize ties with Japan, during a five-day trip to Pyongyang that ended Saturday.
On the contentious issue of abductions of Japanese nationals, Song reiterated the official line that the issue has been resolved, saying that there are no Japanese abductees still alive in North Korea, according to Kanemaru.
Japan officially lists 17 Japanese citizens as having been abducted by North Korean agents in the 1970s and 1980s but alleges Pyongyang’s involvement in many more disappearances. Five of the 17 were repatriated in 2002.
According to Song, Tokyo must first make a “sincere apology” for Japan’s 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula before any summit between Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un can be held.
Abe has repeatedly said that he is open to talks with Kim, but has placed the resolution of the abduction issue as a top agenda item for any summit.
By emphasizing that the environment for a summit is not yet in place, Pyongyang, while acceding to limited contact with Japanese officials, appears to be assuming a posture of waiting for a change in Tokyo’s stance on the issue.
Kanemaru, who visited North Korea with officials from Yamanashi Prefecture, his home turf, said he exchanged opinions with Song at a meeting that lasted several hours.
It was previously reported that Shigeru Kitamura, head of Japan’s Cabinet Intelligence and Research Office, and a senior official from the North’s ruling party had held a secret meeting in July in Vietnam.
Song downplayed the importance of the interaction to “seasonal greetings,” saying the Japanese side had merely stated its basic stance on the abduction issue, according to Kanemaru.
Moreover, there was “absolutely no concrete proposal” from the Japanese government regarding summit talks between Abe and Kim, Kanemaru quoted him as saying.
At the same time, Song also voiced a readiness to meet with Japanese government officials himself, saying that if a nonpartisan delegation of lawmakers were to visit North Korea, he would “unreservedly welcome” them.
In September 1990, Shin Kanemaru co-headed a joint delegation of LDP and Japan Socialist Party members that visited North Korea. The parties signed a joint declaration with the North’s ruling Workers’ Party of Korea calling for the need to normalize diplomatic ties.
The elder Kanemaru, who died in 1996 at age 81, also held talks with the North Korea’s late founder, Kim Il Sung, during the visit.
Shingo Kanemaru served as his father’s secretary and was deeply involved in the negotiations at the time. Since then he has frequently visited North Korea.