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Japan and North Korea made little progress toward solving their problems in five days of bilateral talks that ended early this month in Beijing. The only agreement was to continue to talk.

The talks divided into three panels to discuss diplomatic normalization, abductions of Japanese nationals to North Korea, and the nuclear-arms and missile issue. The North Koreans remained inflexible in their negotiating stance and made a series of new demands, raising the stakes for diplomatic normalization. This is their favorite tactic.

Pyongyang, which is demanding the lifting of financial sanctions imposed by Washington as a condition for resuming the six-party talks on its nuclear-arms development, urged Tokyo to pressure Washington. It looks as though Pyongyang’s participation in the talks was a tactic to delay resuming the six-party talks (with the United States, Russia, South Korea, Japan and China).

Kenichiro Sasae, director general of the Asian and Oceanic Affairs Bureau at the Foreign Ministry, who represents Japan at the six-party talks, likened the six-party and bilateral talks to “a pair of wheels” that must run in unison, but he added that there appears little prospect of a breakthrough in either. Basic differences of opinion put Japan and the U.S. on one side and North Korea on the other.

The Beijing talks were the first in three years in which Japan and North Korea discussed diplomatic normalization. As the prerequisite for normalization, Japan demands a comprehensive solution to the abduction, nuclear-arms and missile issues.

Exchanges in Beijing became heated on the abduction issue. Japan demanded an early homecoming for surviving abductees, disclosure of the truth about the abductions, and extradition of North Korean agents responsible for the acts.

North Korea responded with an unreasonable demand for the extradition of seven members of Japanese nongovernmental organizations who allegedly have aided people fleeing North Korea.

In December the U.N. General Assembly for the first time adopted a resolution condemning North Korea’s human rights violations such as the abductions of foreign nationals. North Korea’s new demands apparently were intended to divert attention from this issue.

The 2002 Pyongyang declaration signed by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and North Korean leader Kim Jong Il promised that, after diplomatic normalization, Japan would provide North Korea economic aid, including grants and low-interest loans, on condition that both countries waived all property claims originating during Japan’s colonial rule before World War II ended.

This agreement was intended as a complement to the 1965 Japan-South Korea normalization pact under which Japan offered $300 million in grants and $200 million in loans. The declaration says details about aid to North Korea will be discussed during negotiations on diplomatic normalization.

At the Beijing talks, North Korea made new reparation demands for Korean forced laborers in Japan and sex slaves who served Japanese military personnel. These demands, made outside the framework of the Pyongyang declaration, only heighten the Japanese public’s distrust of North Korea.

With the six-party talks deadlocked, few had expected a breakthrough on the nuclear-arms and missile issue. North Korea’s admission last February that it possessed nuclear arms suggested that a greater threat exists to Japan than to the U.S. or South Korea.

The Bush administration last September banned all transactions with a Macau bank after accusing North Korea of counterfeiting U.S. dollars and money laundering. Reacting to the sanctions, North Korea refused to agree to the resumption of the six-party talks.

Kyodo News, quoting diplomatic sources, reported that Chinese President Hu Jintao had urged North Korean leader Kim, in a Jan. 17 meeting, not to condition his return to the six-party talks on the lifting of the U.S. sanctions. Kim is said to have declined Hu’s request on the grounds that accepting it could result in the collapse of his regime. U.S. sanctions no doubt are seriously hurting the North Korean leadership.

The most recent session of the six-party talks held last November adjourned after the parties agreed to honor the joint statement issued at the September talks. North Korea made a fresh demand for a light-water reactor in exchange for suspending its nuclear-arms development. In addition, it proposed inspections of U.S. forces in South Korea for nuclear arms. Yet Pyongyang refused to admit to uranium-enrichment activities.

Japan made a new proposal that three panels discuss inspections to verify the abandonment of North Korean nuclear arms, economic and energy aid to Pyongyang, and bilateral relations and regional security. This proposal should be discussed further at the next negotiations.

The Japanese government has been pushing the policy of “dialogue and pressure” toward North Korea. In the coming months, Japan likely will tighten the pressure. Japan already has a law restricting remittances to North Korea and visits by North Korean ships to Japan. The governing Liberal Democratic Party, meanwhile, plans to work out legislation that would allow economic sanctions against North Korea in connection with unresolved questions surrounding the past abductions of Japanese nationals.

Japan could tighten the pressure on North Korea by pushing the Proliferation Security Initiative and cooperating with the international community in other ways. In a 2005 policy report, the Japan Institute of International Affairs said, “Coercive measures should not be designed to exacerbate tensions but to bring about desired political results.”

For the time being, Japan could apply pressure to North Korea by combining several measures to produce gradual effects.

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