Japan ‘paying attention’ to remarks from North Korean leader’s sister: Top Govt. spokesman

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Japan is “paying attention to” the remarks by the powerful sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un about her openness to mending ties and discussing a possible visit to Pyongyang by Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, its top government spokesperson said on Friday.

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshimasa Hayashi commented, referring to Kim Yo-jong’s comments on Thursday that Kishida might be able to visit North Korea under certain conditions, such as that Tokyo will not raise the longstanding issue of Japanese abductees, Yonhap news agency reported.

“We are paying attention to the fact that Vice Director Kim has issued the statement,” Hayashi said in a regular briefing. Without giving further comments, Hayashi restated that Kishida and the Japanese government have been making efforts at various levels to realise a summit with North Korea’s leader to resolve pending issues with Pyongyang.

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But Hayashi made it clear that Japan will not accept North Korea’s claim that the abductees issue has been resolved. “We cannot accept that,” he said. “We remain unchanged that Japan intends to comprehensively resolve pending issues such as nuclear and missiles and the abductions, based on the Japan-North Korea Pyongyang Declaration.”

In 2002, Japan and North Korea signed a landmark declaration committing them to an early normalisation of bilateral ties. The signing came with the first historic visit to North Korea by the then Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi in the same year. This led to North Korea returning five Japanese abductees home.

Kim Yo-jong’s comments came after Kishida said at a recent parliamentary session that various activities are under way, in response to a question about Tokyo’s push for a potential summit with North Korea. Kim also said North Korea and Japan can open up a “new future” together if Tokyo makes a political decision to pave a new path for mending relations through “courteous behaviour and trustworthy action.”

Japan claims that North Korea abducted 17 Japanese citizens in the 1970s and 1980s and 12 of them are still in North Korea after it returned the five abductees. North Korea has admitted having abducted 13 Japanese nationals in the past to train its spies in Japanese language and culture.

While returning the five, North Korea claimed that the other eight were deceased. South Korea believes that any contact between Tokyo and Pyongyang should be made in a way that would “help promote the peace and stability of the Korean Peninsula,” a Foreign Ministry official in Seoul said on condition of anonymity.

“We are closely communicating with the Japanese side on North Korean issues, including contact between Tokyo and Pyongyang,” the official added. “South Korea, the US and Japan are closely coordinating to bring North Korea back on the path to denuclearisation.”