Red Cross officials from North Korea and Japan agreed to continue negotiations on the possible repatriation of the remains of Japanese nationals buried in the North at their talks Monday in the northeastern Chinese city of Shenyang. Pyongyang’s chief delegate said the talks were underway “in a serious mood” and were “productive.”
The Red Cross talks, the first of their kind since August 2012, drew attention as government officials from the two sides also attended. A Japanese news agency reported that diplomats from Japan and North Korea had informal talks on the sidelines of the Red Cross meeting. An unnamed Japanese government source was quoted as saying the diplomats discussed various issues between the two countries, declining to elaborate further.
It is highly possible that the contact might lead to the resumption of official negotiations between Tokyo and Pyongyang. A similar Red Cross meeting in August 2012 led to government-level talks later that year. A follow-up discussion scheduled to be held a month later was canceled after Pyongyang announced a plan to launch a long-range rocket.
Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida suggested Tuesday that the two sides would resume official negotiations if Pyongyang took a positive stance on the issue of returning Japanese citizens kidnapped by the North.
As noted by some observers, Tokyo may be responding to Pyongyang’s dialogue offensive not only to discuss the humanitarian matter but also to put pressure on Seoul, with which it has been at odds over historical and territorial issues. North Korea also seems to hope that its improved ties with Japan will boost its position in dealing with South Korea.
These circumstances may be a cause of concern for Seoul’s diplomatic and security strategists. Tokyo’s diplomatic maneuver is certainly set to be limited by Pyongyang’s refusal to discard its nuclear arms program. Still, Japan is urged to avoid unnecessarily weakening international efforts to resolve the problem.