The Korea Herald/Asia News Network
Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono met South Korean President Moon Jae-in and his South Korean counterpart Kang Kyung-wha on Wednesday to discuss North Korea’s nuclear issue and bilateral relations, as Japan struggles to remain relevant to the inter-Korean summit later this month.
During an hourlong meeting, Kang and Kono reaffirmed their pledge for close coordination in dealing with North Korea’s nuclear issue in the lead-up to the inter-Korean summit scheduled for April 27 and the US-North Korea summit expected to take place by early June.
“With preparations underway for South Korea and the United States’ summits with North Korea, which could serve as a major turning point in attaining denuclearization, (we) hope for cooperation to achieve the two countries’ shared goal of peacefully resolving the North’s nuclear issue and establishing peace,” Kang said in opening remarks ahead of the meeting with Kono.
“I want Japan and South Korea to closely coordinate to realize the denuclearization of North Korea and bring about peace, stability and prosperity in Northeast Asia,” Kono said.
Kono’s visit comes amid growing concerns in Japan that the diplomatic drive led by South Korea, North Korea and the US could fail to meet its security concerns and interests as it is sidelined in the denuclearization talks.
The top diplomats shared the perception that the upcoming inter-Korean summit, ahead of the North Korea-US summit, offers a historic opportunity, an official from Seoul’s Foreign Ministry told reporters on the condition of anonymity.
They agreed that a pressure campaign and sanctions against North Korea will continue until there is progress in the process of North Korea’s denuclearization. But Kang stressed the importance of maintaining the momentum of “dialogue” with North Korea to achieve the goal of denuclearization, the official said.
Kono also reiterated Japan’s position that North Korea’s nuclear and missile issue and its abduction of Japanese nationals in the 1970s and 1980s should be comprehensively resolved and asked South Korea to bring up the issue during the upcoming inter-Korean summit, according to the official.
The issue of Japanese nationals abducted by North Korea remains highly critical for Japan.
Japan has said North Korea abducted at least 17 Japanese citizens to train agents in the Japanese language and culture to spy on South Korea. North Korea acknowledged in 2002 that it had abducted 13 Japanese. It has released only five of them, saying the other eight had died.
Kono arrived in South Korea late on Tuesday, on his first visit to the country since taking the post in August last year. It was the first visit by Japan’s top diplomat since the two countries signed a deal on Japan’s wartime sexual enslavement of Korean women at front-line brothels in December 2015.
Kono was set to pay a courtesy call later in the day to President Moon Jae-in and to have dinner with Kang. He also visited the Seoul National Cemetery to pay tribute to Korean War veterans before returning to Japan.
Although Seoul and Tokyo present a united front in tackling North Korea’s nuclear issue, their bilateral relations have frayed in recent months over historical matters, including the “comfort women” issue and Japan’s claims to South Korea’s eastern islets of Dokdo.
Kang acknowledged that the two neighbors face challenges but said she hopes that they will beef up cooperation in such areas as economy, culture and personnel exchanges that could be mutually beneficial, while building “future-oriented” relations.