Seoul sees Kishida’s possible Pyongyang visit won’t bring fundamental changes

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida looks on prior to a meeting with the president of Kenya (not pictured) at the prime minister's office in Tokyo, Feb. 8. EPA-Yonhap

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida looks on prior to a meeting with the president of Kenya (not pictured) at the prime minister’s office in Tokyo, Feb. 8. EPA-Yonhap

NK’s invitation is attempt to sway Seoul, Washington, Tokyo 3-way security ties: experts

By Nam Hyun-woo

South Korea’s presidential office expressed a negative outlook on remarks by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s sister on the regime’s openness to discussing a visit by Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida to Pyongyang.

An official at the presidential office told The Korea Times that the North’s remarks appear to be a hurried reaction to Seoul’s recent forming of formal diplomatic ties with Cuba, and the visit, even if it takes place, will not likely bring “fundamental changes” in the relations between North Korea and Japan.

“There have been history and trajectory in Japan-North Korea relations, and chances seem very slim that the North’s abrupt offer will bring a fundamental change in the two sides’ relations,” the official said, Friday.

Then-Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, right, talks to then-North Korean leader Kim Jong-il after their summit meeting in Pyongyang, May 22, 2004. AP-Yonhap

Then-Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, right, talks to then-North Korean leader Kim Jong-il after their summit meeting in Pyongyang, May 22, 2004. AP-Yonhap

The office’s negative view came after Kim Yo-jong, sister of the North Korean leader, said in a statement on Thursday night that Kishida’s visit to Pyongyang is possible if Tokyo does not make the issue of the past abductions of Japanese nationals an obstacle between the two sides.

Japan believes 17 Japanese citizens were abducted by North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s, and their return still remains as one of the key hurdles in the two sides’ relations.

The official cited former Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s visits to North Korea in 2002 and 2004, which resulted in five Japanese abductees being returned home.

The returns offered a short-term boost in Koizumi’s job approval ratings, but did not bring fundamental changes in the two sides’ relations. Japan and North Korea still have no diplomatic ties, as Pyongyang’s repeated missile tests are casting security concerns for Tokyo, and the Japanese government is still seeking the return of 12 others whom it has officially recognized as having been abducted to the North.

The official added that Kim Yo-jong’s statement can be interpreted as Pyongyang’s disgruntled response to Seoul’s announcement on Wednesday night that it has established formal diplomatic ties with Cuba, which is the North’s long-time ally.

The South Korean foreign ministry refused to comment on the “hypothetical situation” of Kishida’s possible summit with the North Korean leader, but added that the ministry is “closely communicating with its Japanese counterparts on the contact between Tokyo and Pyongyang.” It added, “The contact should contribute to North Korea’s denuclearization and peace and stability of the Korean Peninsula.”

Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshimasa Hayashi said Friday that Tokyo is “carefully looking” at Kim Yo-jong’s comments and its government has been seeking high-level official talks for a Japan-North Korea summit, but added that Japan will not accept the North’s claim that the abductees issue has been resolved.

While Japan is taking a cautious stance, South Korea is already casting a negative outlook on the offered talks between Kim and Kishida, which it sees as the North’s attempt to disrupt the trilateral security cooperation between Seoul, Tokyo and Washington.

“Kim Yo-jong’s statement seems to be a reaction to South Korea’s diplomatic ties with Cuba and at the same time a strategy to plant concerns that the North Korea-Japan summit may crack the current security cooperation between Seoul, Tokyo and Washington,” said Park Won-gon, a professor of North Korean studies at Ewha Womans University.

“And chances are very slim for the trilateral security cooperation to be damaged by North Korea, since Japan is participating in the cooperation because of the North’s missile and nuclear threats. Though chances are very slim for the North Korea-Japan summit to take place, it can rather be a breakthrough in the stalemate related to Pyongyang.”

Yang Moo-jin, president of the University of North Korean Studies, also noted that Kim Yo-jong’s statement is North Korea’s attempt to urge Japan to take a more proactive stance in their working-level talks for the summit, but it remains difficult for Kishida to accept the conditions set by Pyongyang.

“North Korea’s demands for not mentioning the abductees issue and nuclear programs are not easy conditions that Kishida can accept, meaning chances are slim for a Kim-Kishida summit,” Yang said. “There is no need for the South Korean government to have only negative views on this agenda, because Japan’s diplomatic relations with North Korea can rather be an assist for the Yoon Suk Yeol administration’s efforts to control Northeast Asian geopolitics.”

Leave a Comment