A Japanese abductee held by North Korea for more than two decades before being repatriated in 2002 has expressed hope for a summit meeting between Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Kim Jong Un to seek progress in saving others still believed to be in North Korea.
“Even if we can’t expect a major achievement, now is the time to realize a Japan-North Korea summit,” 61-year-old Kaoru Hasuike said in an interview Monday in Niigata Prefecture, where he lives, adding that North Korea is currently “isolated.”
Prime Minister Abe has recently softened his stance toward North Korea, saying he will meet with its leader, Kim, “without preconditions,” a shift from his previous position that any summit should yield progress on the abduction issue.
While Abe’s new policy has drawn some criticism inside Japan, Hasuike said, “It’s meaningful for the leaders to directly understand each other’s ideas. Nothing will begin unless they meet.”
He also indicated North Korea may have an incentive to reach out to Japan, with its neighbors — South Korea, China and Russia — remaining hesitant to subvert U.N. Security Council resolutions and engage economically with the North.
But at the same time he admitted that the long-standing abduction issue will not be resolved “at once” even if a meeting between the two leaders is realized because nuclear and missile issues have to be resolved as well.
Japan’s goal is to seek a comprehensive settlement of the nuclear, missile and abduction issues.
Meanwhile, denuclearization talks between the United States and North Korea have stalled, and the second summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and Kim in Hanoi in February broke down after a dispute over sanctions.
If Abe and Kim do meet, it will be the third summit between the two countries following those in 2002 and 2004 between then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and Kim’s father, Kim Jong Il.
In a joint declaration issued in 2002, the two countries agreed to work toward normalization of relations by tackling outstanding problems, including the abduction issue.
Japan also said in the declaration it will extend economic cooperation to North Korea after the normalization of ties.
Tokyo officially lists 17 people as abductees, five of whom were repatriated in 2002, and suspects North Korea’s involvement in many more disappearances.
While Pyongyang insists the abduction issue is “already resolved,” Abe has made it a top political priority to settle it once and for all.
Hasuike and his wife, Yukiko, were among the five abductees who returned to Japan. The couple were abducted in 1978 on the coast of Kashiwazaki in Niigata Prefecture.
Since returning, Hasuike has taught Korean language and the culture of the Korean Peninsula at Niigata Sangyo University in his hometown.