Tokyo welcomes Pyongyang39s offer of rapprochement

Tokyo welcomes Pyongyang's offer of rapprochement

Japan reacted with suspicion on Friday to a proposal by Kim Yo Jong, the influential sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, to improve relations between Tokyo and Pyongyang, which are currently at an impasse.

Japanese government spokesman Yoshimasa Hayashi told the press that Tokyo was following Kim Yo Jong's comments “attentively.”

In a statement released Thursday by North Korea's official news agency KCNA, Kim Yo Jong estimated that North Korea and Japan could “open a new future together” depending on the actions Japan would take, and in particular expressed willingness to turn the tide Subject of Pyongyang's abduction of Japanese citizens in the 1970s and 1980s.

North Korea admitted in 2002 that it sent agents to kidnap 13 Japanese people and then forced them to train its spies in the Japanese language and customs.

But Japan officially lists 17 people and believes many more of its citizens have been kidnapped. For more than twenty years, the Japanese government has promised to do everything possible to achieve their repatriation.

North Korea released five of these people in 2002, but assured that all others were dead.

“North Korea's argument that the abduction issue has been resolved is completely unacceptable,” Hayashi added on Friday.

“It seems unlikely that things will develop further” between the two countries soon, Masao Okonogi, professor emeritus at Keio University in Tokyo and a specialist on North Korea, told AFP on Friday.

“Japan has no interest in holding a summit,” this expert added, if North Korea ignores the issue of abductions.

Mystery of Pyongyang's intentions

“North Korea is likely to expect something in return if it raises the issue of kidnappings,” Daisuke Kawai, deputy director of the economic security research program at the University of Tokyo, told AFP.

“But Japan cannot currently offer anything that would meet North Korea's demands without significant concessions,” such as recognizing the legitimacy of its nuclear and ballistics programs or easing international sanctions against the country, Kawai said.

In a speech to the United Nations General Assembly last September, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida expressed his desire to meet the North Korean leader “at any time and without preconditions.”

Japan, like South Korea, is a close ally of the United States, which sees the North Korean regime as its greatest enemy.

In January, Pyongyang also sent a message of condolence to Tokyo after the New Year's quake that killed more than 240 people in central Japan, surprising observers.

“Pyongyang may believe that improving its relations with Japan is important to successfully negotiate with the United States if Trump becomes president again,” Okonogi suggests.

North Korea has so far rejected any talks with Joe Biden's administration, while Kim Jong Un met with Donald Trump three times when he was president of the United States. However, their exchange went nowhere.

For his part, Mr. Kawai suspects that Pyongyang's appeal to Tokyo is more aimed at undermining cooperation between Japan and South Korea pending the outcome of the American presidential election.