North Korea says Japan's prime minister proposed summit with leader Kim Jong Un

AP , Monday 25 Mar 2024

North Korea said Monday that Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has proposed a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, as the North urged Japan to show sincerity toward improving bilateral ties and realizing their countries' first summit in about 20 years.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (L), and Japan s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (L), and Japan s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. AFP


Japan’s government did not immediately respond to the North Korean announcement. In the statement carried by state media, Kim’s sister and senior official, Kim Yo Jong, said Kishida used an unspecified channel to convey his position that he wants to meet Kim Jong Un in person at an early date.

Kim Yo Jong said there would be no breakthrough in North Korea-Japan relations as long as Kishida’s government raises the issue of Japanese citizens abducted to North Korea in past decades and opposes what she described as the North’s “exercise of sovereign rights,” apparently referring to the North’s weapons testing activities.

“If Japan continues to try to interfere with our exercise of our sovereign rights, and continues to be preoccupied with the abduction issue, of which there is nothing more to resolve or investigate, then the prime minister’s (offer for talks) will inevitably be labeled as just an attempt to improve his popularity,” she said.

“As long as Japan is hostile toward (North Korea) and infringes our sovereign rights, we will consider it as an enemy that is within our target, not as a friend,” Kim Yo Jong said. “The prime minister should know that he won’t be able to meet the leadership of our country just because he wants to or just because he’s determined to.”

In February, Kim Yo Jong issued a similar statement on bilateral ties, saying North Korea was open to improving relationships with Japan and even inviting Kishida to Pyongyang. But she said those would be possible only if Tokyo “drops its bad habit of unreasonably pulling up (North Korea) over its legitimate right to self-defense and does not lay such a stumbling block as the already settled abduction issue.”

Kishida has said previously that he believes a summit with Kim Jong Un is important in various ways, including solving the problem of the abducted Japanese citizens. Japanese media reported he said he wasn't aware of the North Korean announcement when he was asked about it in parliament on Monday.

Some experts say North Korea is seeking to improve ties with Japan as a way to weaken a trilateral Tokyo-Seoul-Washington security partnership, while Kishida also wants better ties with North Korea to increase his declining approval rating at home.

The U.S. and South Korea have been expanding their military drills and trilateral exercises involving Japan in response to North Korea’s provocative run of weapons tests since 2022. The North Korean weapons tested in recent years included nuclear-capable missiles designed to strike key facilities in Japan as well as those in South Korea and the mainland U.S.

North Korea and Japan don't have diplomatic ties, and their relations have been overshadowed by North Korea's nuclear program, the North's past abduction of Japanese nationals, and Japan's 1910-45 colonization of the Korean Peninsula.

After years of denial, North Korea acknowledged in an unprecedented 2002 summit between Kim Jong Il, the late father of Kim Jong Un, and then-Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi that its agents had kidnapped 13 Japanese, mainly to train spies in Japanese language and culture. It allowed five of them to return to Japan that year but said the others had died. Japan thinks at least some of them may still be alive, and believes hundreds more may also have been abducted.

Earlier Monday, North Korea’s state media reported that Kim Jong Un supervised a tank exercise and encouraged his armored forces to sharpen war preparations in the face of growing tensions with South Korea.

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