Ten years have passed since then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and the late North Korean leader Kim Jong Il signed the Pyongyang Declaration (Sept. 17, 2002) with the eventual aim of normalizing a bilateral relationship. Despite the historic significance of the declaration, little progress has been made to improve ties between the two countries.
So, it is a welcome development that Japan and North Korea have resumed talks after a lapse of four years. Both governments should make serious efforts to ensure the talks bear fruit. In the declaration, Japan apologized for its past colonial rule over Korea and promised to provide economic assistance to North Korea if diplomatic relations are normalized. Mr. Kim apologized for the abduction of Japanese citizens by North Korean agents.
North Korea said it will take appropriate steps to prevent future abductions, which the declaration described as an outstanding issue related to the lives and safety of the Japanese people. Both countries agreed to promote talks among countries concerned to resolve the thorny issue of the North’s nuclear weapons program.
It is regrettable that in the years since the declaration was signed North Korea has carried out two nuclear weapons tests and fired long-range missiles three times.
North Korea also broke an August 2008 agreement with Japan to set up a joint committee to investigate the abduction issue in exchange for Japan lifting part of its economic sanctions.
In a welcome move, North Korea on the 10th anniversary of the signing of the Pyongyang Declaration said that the improvement of its relationship with Japan was a goal left behind by Kim Jong Il and that there is no change to its position that it will implement the declaration. Japan regards the declaration as remaining in force.
But, regrettably, North Korea said the abduction issue has been resolved. North Korea should realize that without a resolution to the abduction issue, Japanese economic assistance will not be forthcoming. Pyongyang should resume its investigation into the abduction issue. Doing so will not only help to further the improvement of bilateral ties, but also help North Korea to regain the trust of the international community.
Japan, for its part, should pay attention to the fact that North Korea attaches great importance to “settlement of the past,” including thorny historical issues such as Japan’s colonial rule over Korea. Japan should seriously consider what steps it can take to help bring closure to this issue as doing so would greatly help to improve bilateral relations.
Japan has applied a series of economic sanctions against North Korea over its nuclear weapons program, but they have not worked well. The North has managed to import Japanese products through China and Southeast Asia.
Japan should come up with other ways of persuading North Korea to engage in constructive talks to resolve the abduction and historical issues, and the problems posed by North’s nuclear weapons and missile programs.
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