North Korea and Japan have agreed to hold their Red Cross talks on March 3 in Shenyang, China, to discuss the transfer of the remains of Japanese nationals buried in the communist state and other bilateral issues, Tokyo officials said Thursday.
Their Red Cross talks, the first since 2012, came amid Pyongyang’s extensive efforts to forge a “peaceful external environment” with the crucial goal of enhancing the livelihoods of its starving people.
In recent weeks, the isolated state has sought to improve ties with South Korea by agreeing to hold the reunions of separated families and continue to hold high-level talks to discuss issues of mutual concern.
Pyongyang is expected to further step up its peace offensive to its neighboring states and the U.S. to spur its efforts to shore up its moribund economy.
Economic reconstruction is one of the most crucial projects facing the Kim Jong-un regime as people’s discontent toward the regime may continue to deteriorate with no improvement in economic conditions.
For the conservative Tokyo government, securing the remains of Japanese nationals from the North could be a crucial political task given that the issue has been one of the thorniest ones in their bilateral relations.
Meanwhile, South Korea plans to propose that the rival Koreas hold Red Cross talks to discuss further reunions of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War, an official said Thursday.
The two Koreas wrapped up the first temporary family reunions since late 2010 at a North Korean mountain resort on Tuesday as part of their recent deal meant to improve their soured relations.
Under the deal, the two Koreas agreed to hold Red Cross talks after staging the reunions to resolve humanitarian issues.
“We think about proposing (the talks) first,” the official of the unification ministry said, adding that a time frame for the talks is under consideration.
South Korea has said it hopes to discuss with North Korea how to hold family reunions on a regular basis, and to address the issue of South Korean prisoners of war from the Korean War and abductees being held in the North.
South Korea has repeatedly called for frequent family reunions with North Korea, noting that time is running out for tens of thousands of elderly people who wish to see their long-lost relatives before they die. The North, however, has balked at the idea of staging frequent meetings.
South Korea estimates that 516 South Korean civilian abductees and 500 POWs are still alive in the North. North Korea denies holding any prisoners of war, and claims that civilians voluntarily defected.
By Song Sang-ho, news reports