No signs have emerged that Japan can solve the long-standing problem of kidnappings of Japanese nationals by North Korea, although Saturday marked the 20th anniversary of the signing of a historic agreement between the two Asian countries.
Over the past two decades, North Korea has accelerated the development of nuclear and ballistic missiles, while strengthening relations with its powerful neighbors China and Russia, which have apparently supplied Pyongyang with military technology and resources.
The United States and South Korea technically remain in a state of war with the North given that the 1950-53 Korean War ended in an armistice, not a peace treaty, but they have held bilateral summits with Pyongyang for two years until the beginning of 2019, respectively.
Japan, meanwhile, was passed over by North Korea as the country was overtaken by China as the world’s second-largest economy in 2010.
After the first-ever US-North Korea summit in June 2018, then-Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe backtracked on his “maximum pressure” policy against Pyongyang, expressing his readiness to hold a meeting with the leader Kim Jong Un “unconditionally”.
Diplomatic source, however, said ‘North Korea has no intention of interacting with Japan’ as it ‘no longer hopes for financial help’ from Tokyo amid growing Chinese economy . North Korea depends on China for more than 90% of its trade.
“On the contrary, North Korea has become more hostile to Japan as it has deepened its ties with China, Pyongyang’s most influential ally, and Russia to tackle” the post-war international order. -Cold War dominated by Western countries, especially the United States, the source said.
“North Korea has become reluctant to resume direct negotiations with the United States. Japan is a very close security ally of the United States. Tokyo lost a chance to solve the problem” of kidnappings of Japanese nationals by Pyongyang in the 1970s and 1980s, he added.
Talks between the United States and North Korea on denuclearization and sanctions relief have been deadlocked for about three years.
Since its founding in 1948, North Korea has maintained harsh rhetoric about Japan to promote communist propaganda in the country, while demanding that Tokyo pay post-World War II compensation. Japan colonized Korea from 1910 until the end of the war in 1945.
Japan and North Korea do not have diplomatic relations. But on September 17, 2002, then Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi visited Pyongyang and signed a historic declaration with late North Korean leader Kim Jong Il.
As part of the Pyongyang declaration, the two Asian countries agreed to make “all possible efforts for the early normalization of relations” and Japan pledged to extend economic cooperation to North Korea after the normalization of relations. relationships.
Koizumi also issued North Korea’s first official apology for the abductions and five abductees were returned to Japan, while Tokyo requested the return of 12 other people it officially recognized as having been abducted by Pyongyang.
North Korea has told Japan that eight of them, including iconic abductee Megumi Yokota, are dead and the rest never entered the country.
After Koizumi revisited Pyongyang in 2004, North Korea handed Japan the cremated remains it claims were Yokota’s, but it was later proven by DNA analysis that they were not hers. .
With negotiations stalled between Tokyo and Pyongyang, Abe, who served as prime minister for about a year from 2006, returned as Japan’s top political leader in 2012. He had accompanied Koizumi to North Korea as Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary in 2002.
Abe, Japan’s longest-serving prime minister, took a tough stance against North Korea as the nuclear-armed country began insisting the abduction issue was “already resolved”.
In 2014, the Japanese government under Abe, who was shot and killed during an election campaign speech in July this year, reached an agreement with North Korea on the principles of talks to resolve the kidnapping issue.
Japan eased its sanctions against Pyongyang, which in turn promised a full-scale investigation into the matter.
But North Korea has repeatedly postponed the release of the survey results. The nation later disbanded its investigative team and suspended the investigation after Japan imposed additional sanctions in 2016 in reaction to Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile tests.
In 2017, North Korea launched what it called its “most powerful” intercontinental ballistic missile, capable of launching a nuclear warhead anywhere in the continental United States, after completing its sixth nuclear test that year.
As Kim Jong Un declared the completion of “the state nuclear force”, Abe joined other countries in tightening sanctions against North Korea, which is banned from firing ballistic missiles and carrying out nuclear tests under UN Security Council resolutions.
“Such a move by Abe definitely made North Korea take a tough stance against Japan,” another diplomatic source said.
In 2019, Song Il Ho, North Korea’s chief negotiator on normalizing relations with Japan, censured Abe as “rude and immoral”, saying in a statement that he “would do well not to dream forever to cross the threshold of Pyongyang”.
Even after Abe, a conservative politician known for his hawkish views on security, resigned as prime minister in 2020, North Korea reiterated that bilateral relations would deteriorate further unless Tokyo changed its stance. on the issue of abductions.
Moreover, Kim Jong Un did not want to resume talks with the Western bloc which has become more vigilant against China and Russia, nations traditionally friendly to North Korea, whose economy has been dragged down by the new pandemic. of coronavirus. Since the COVID-19 outbreak raged in early 2020, “North Korea has largely isolated itself from the world and limited border access,” said Troy Stangarone, senior director of the Korea Economic Institute in Washington.
“Together with North Korea’s desire to improve its relations with Russia and China, it is not surprising” that Pyongyang “refused the prospect of a meeting” with Japan, he said. said.
Young-Key Kim-Renaud, professor emeritus at George Washington University in the U.S. capital, said: “The whole world, including Japan, should try to reassure North Korea that other countries don’t ‘have no intention of demolishing’ the nation.