• POLITICS & GOVERNMENT

Kishida Expresses Willingness for Negotiations with N. Korea over Abduction Issue

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, center, speaks to Hitomi Soga at the Prime Minister’s Office on Wednesday.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida expressed willingness to negotiate with Pyongyang over historical abductions of Japanese citizens during a meeting with a woman who was abducted to North Korea in the 1970s.

At the Prime Minister’s Office in Tokyo on Wednesday, Kishida told Hitomi Soga he wanted to hold high-level talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at an early date.

But with the abductees and their immediate family members getting older, it remains to be seen whether a meeting will be realized.

Soga and her mother, Miyoshi, were abducted in August 1978. The whereabouts of Miyoshi are not known.

“My mother will be turning 91. The more I think about how she might be doing, the more overwhelmed I feel,” said Soga, 64.

She gave Kishida a letter calling for the arrangement of a Japan-North Korea summit in the near future, the swift rescue of abductees, and the prevention of the abduction issue from fading away.

Kishida said: “The abductions are a time-critical human rights issue that cannot be neglected. I must take the lead in addressing the issue,”

In the Stockholm Agreement signed by Tokyo and Pyongyang in 2014, North Korea promised to conduct a comprehensive investigation into all Japanese citizens possibly abducted by North Korea.

However, negotiations reached an impasse after North Korea unilaterally announced the termination of the investigation in 2016.

On May 27 of this year, Kishida proposed holding “high-level talks” to break the deadlock. A vice minister of the North Korean Foreign Ministry issued a statement on May 29 saying, “If Japan has a new determination … and is seeking a way to improve relations, there is no reason for us not to meet.”

For North Korea, it was an unusually swift response, but the statement also rehashed North Korea’s assertion that the abduction issue has been resolved. This indicates a gulf still remains between the positions of Pyongyang and Tokyo, which is calling for the return of all abductees to Japan as soon as possible.

A senior Japanese government official said, “There has been no diplomatic buildup,” regarding contact with North Korea behind the scenes.

With the China-North Korea border still closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, opportunities for direct contact have been limited.

In June, The Foreign Ministry dispatched an official to an international conference in Mongolia that North Korea had attended in the past, but Pyongyang did not participate.

North Korea’s main priority is thought to be securing deterrence against the United States through its nuclear and missile programs.

It remains to be seen how seriously North Korea will engage in dialogue with Japan, which is committed to a comprehensive resolution of the abduction, nuclear weapon and missile issues.

Some Japanese Foreign Ministry officials believe Pyongyang might be hinting at the possibility of dialogue in an attempt to sway Tokyo and disrupt the unity of Japan, the United States and South Korea, which are rapidly strengthening their defense cooperation, including the sharing of information related to North Korean missiles.