National

Japan's budget on North Korea goes unused amid stalled abduction talks

Kyodo

Part of the state budget related to North Korea has remained untouched in the last five years amid Pyongyang’s refusal to implement a 2014 bilateral agreement to investigate the fate of Japanese abductees in the country, according to Foreign Ministry documents and officials.

The ministry has not used a total of ¥4.57 million from fiscal 2015 to 2019. The funds were earmarked for sending officials to the North as part of a probe into the status of the remains of Japanese who died around the end of World War II in what is now North Korea, ministry documents show.

The envisioned trips were based on the Stockholm agreement, under which Pyongyang agreed to reopen an investigation into the fate of Japanese nationals abducted by North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s, as well as those that stayed on the Korean Peninsula after the end of the war.

The peninsula was under Japanese colonial rule from 1910 to 1945.

But North Korea has refused to let Japanese officials in, calling the agreement “invalid” after Japan strengthened economic sanctions on the country in 2016 in response to a string of nuclear and ballistic missile tests.

While Tokyo argues the agreement still stands, there are questions as to whether it is appropriate for the Foreign Ministry to continue requesting money it knows will likely never be used.

“Expenses usually aren’t handled like this,” said a Finance Ministry official.

“Projects that didn’t materialize normally aren’t funded the next year,” another government official said. “There shouldn’t be an exception just because North Korea is involved.”

According to ministry documents obtained by Kyodo News through an information disclosure request, ¥882,000 was allocated for North Korea trips in fiscal 2015, ¥1.02 million in fiscal 2018 and ¥748,000 in fiscal 2019.

It was not clear what caused the fluctuation in the annual figures. The unused funds were ultimately returned to the state coffers.

The ministry is also requesting a North Korea-related budget for fiscal 2020, which will start April next year, according to a ministry official.

Japan officially lists 17 nationals as having been abducted by North Korean agents, including five who were repatriated in 2002, but suspects their involvement in many more disappearances.

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