North Korea Leadership Watch

Research and Analysis on the DPRK Leadership

DPRK-Japan Intergovernmental Talks to Resume in Beijing during 5-6 December

DPRK Ambassador-at-Large Song Il Ho (L) and Japanese Foreign Ministry Department of Asian and Oceanian Affairs Department Director Shinsuke Sugiyama (R, annotated) in Ulan Bator in November 2012 (Photos: Mongolia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade)

DPRK and Japanese media reported on 27 November (Tuesday) that the DPRK-Japan intergovernmental meetings will resume in Beijing on 5 December (Wedesday) and continue until 6 December (Thursday).  According to a brief item in KCNA “DPRK-Japan inter-governmental talks will be held in Beijing of China on December 5 and 6 in the wake of the opening in Ulan Bator of Mongolia on November 15 and 16.  The talks will discuss the improvement of the relations between the two countries.”  Like the 15-16 November interactions in Ulan Bator, the DPRK delegation will be led by Ambassador-at-Large Song Il Ho and the Japanese side will be led by Director of the Japanese Foreign Ministry’s Asian and Oceanian Affairs.

The DPRK and Japanese embassies in Beijing (Photo: Google image)

According to a 27 November report in Kyodo, Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba said that “We intend to obtain outcomes by consulting with tenacity” and that “discussions about issues of interest to both sides are bound to deepen in the second round.”  The 5-6 December meeting will focus on the repatriation of remains of Japanese citizens who died in the DPRK during the end of the Second World War, the repatriation of Japanese spouses who migrated to the DPRK, regional strategic issues and the abduction of Japanese nationals by DPRK operatives during the 1970s and 1980s.  On the issue of the repatriation of remains, Kyodo reported ,”there is a possibility the North Korean side might call for concrete action from the Japanese side on the issue.”  On regional strategic issues, Kyodo reported “Tokyo is also expected to urge Pyongyang to restrain itself as the latter shows signs of preparation for a long-range ballistic missile launch.”

Embassy of Japan in Beijing (Photo: Google image)

With regard to the most knotty of agenda items, the abductions, “the two sides are also considering setting up a joint investigation commission over the whereabouts of those abducted by North Korea and others whose abductions by North Korea cannot be ruled out.”  In a series of news reports about the 15-16 November intergovernmental meetings in Ulan Bator, the DPRK’s media organization in Japan Choso’n Sinbo may have intimated the DPRK’s flexibility on the abduction issue (“they would hold wide-ranging and open-minded discussions on pending issues between the two countries,”  “both parties of the DPRK and Japan made clear, each, their opinion and position on the matters of concern and held exchanges of opinions about them” and “the Japan side also seems to have aimed at maintaining the frame of the diplomatic relations of dialogue. As the DPRK side argued, an opportunity to break the four-year deadlock of the DPRK and Japan was provided because discussions on the matters of concern to both parties were held from the viewpoint of improving their relations.”)

The DPRK’s core leadership has a degree of flexibility in managing (and resolving) the abduction issue.  Most of the DPRK-based intelligence officials and operatives who were active in Japan in the 1970s, at the time of the abductions, have long since died, retired or rendered inactive; the remaining personnel linked to these operations no longer hold the appropriate positions.  In addition to that, two reports in Yomirui Shimbun have claimed if there are any surviving abductees residing in the DPRK they are in close contact with Kim Jong Un (Kim Cho’ng-u’n) and his younger sister Kim Yo Jong (Kim Yo’-cho’ng).  According to an August 2012 report,  Kim Yo Jong “took charge” of Kim He Kyung, daughter of abductee poster girl Megumi Yokota, and the two “are working together.”  During one of the leadership visits to her father’s casket in December 2011, Kim Yo Jong led several groups of officials in paying their respects to KJI.  Among two of these groups of officials were several individuals who manage agencies and departments tied to the abductions.  According to a 26 November 2012 report in Yomiuri citing ROK sources claimed that another abductee 64-year old Kyoko Matsumoto was moved to Pyongyang from his home in Ch’o’ngjin, North Hamgyo’ng Province.

DPRK Embassy in Beijing (Photo: Google image)

The upcoming DPRK-Japan interactions in Beijing might be a matter of wanting to harvest fruit before Japan’s general elections on 16 December 2012.  Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary and (as of October 2012) Minister for the Abduction Issue Osamu Fujimura told Kyodo “We intend to advance (the consultations) steadily, without somehow trying to do something by tangling them with national politics.”  In a meeting with Japanese interlocutors in 2009, the DPRK’s then-Vice Foreign Minister (and current Korean Workers’ Party Secretary and International Affairs Director) Kim Yong Il said, “How can we negotiate with Japan when they keep changing prime ministers?”  In a 17 November 2012 piece by Kim Chi Yong in Choso’n Sinbo also included similar concerns, citing 2007 and 2008 DPRK-Japan meetings: “directly after the meeting, the Prime Minister at the time, Abe suddenly abandoned his regime. At the inter-governmental working-level talks also, which were held in Shenyang, China in August the next year, an agreement was reached between the DPRK and Japan, but a short time later, the Prime Minister at the time, Fukuda expressed his intention to resign.”

The Choso’n Sinbo piece also quoted an anonymous DPRK Foreign Ministry who participated in the Ulan-Bator meetings who “made his opinion clear that diplomats must not be bewildered by the political situation before their eyes and continue to fulfill their duties and roles from a wide point of view. The DPRK diplomats fulfilled their duties at the talks this time also, and Japan gained an opportunity to promote once again diplomatic relations with the DPRK.”  However, the piece also echoed Fujimura’s comments to Kyodo saying “delegations of both governments made discussions about improving their relations in Ulan Bator, regardless of Japan’s political situation.”

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