Since he took office in September, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has made little progress in resolving North Korea’s abductions of Japanese citizens or an ongoing territorial dispute with Russia.
When he took office, Suga vowed to lead efforts to resolve the abduction issue. In his Diet speeches in October and January, he described the issue as “a top priority for my administration.”
But there has been no confirmed contact between Tokyo and Pyongyang.
A Japanese government source signaled that there has been no progress in the abduction issue. “We can say only that we’re watching the North Korean situation with close attention,” the source said.
Suga has said he is ready to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un with no conditions. But there are no signs that such a summit is imminent.
The Japanese government had been exploring the possibility of holding talks with Kim Yo Jong, the influential sister of the North Korean leader, if she visits Japan for this summer’s Tokyo Olympics. But North Korea withdrew from the games, citing the COVID-19 pandemic.
There are also no signs of progress in talks with Russia on the ownership of four islands off the coast of Hokkaido controlled by Moscow but also claimed by Tokyo.
Suga’s predecessor, Shinzo Abe, held 24 rounds of talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin after he returned to power in December 2012, including three in-person summits in 2019 and two phone calls in 2020.
But Suga has spoken to Putin only once, by phone immediately after taking office. Even Abe, who established a relationship of trust with Putin, faced difficulty in making progress in the territorial talks.
Suga has been forced to prioritize the pandemic response over foreign policy. Speaking to a House of Councilors lawmaker on Wednesday, the prime minister said that he first needed to focus on getting the pandemic under control.
But aides say Suga has no enthusiasm for tackling foreign policy challenges. “The prime minister doesn’t want to lose any points on the foreign policy front. He is likely to leave the territorial issue untouched,” a government source said.
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