North Korea is demanding that Japan permit a ferry to restart journeys between the two nations in return for the reopening of an investigation into the fate of Japanese nationals abducted by Pyongyang’s agents.
The demand is the just latest from Pyongyang.
North Korea has already requested that Japan allow direct charter flights between the two nations. It has also asked Tokyo to cancel the sanctions it imposed after Pyongyang conducted nuclear and missile tests.
And it has asked that a court decision to sell the Tokyo headquarters of the North Korean residents’ association in Japan be rescinded.
The two nations have had at least two rounds of talks in recent months. A third meeting is expected to take place before the end of the month.
Japan has been encouraged by the new-found flexibility displayed by the North Korean regime. There are genuine hopes in Tokyo that there may be progress in recovering the 17 Japanese nationals who are officially listed as having been abducted.
While there are suggestions that Japan is edging towards permitting charter flights to restart, Tokyo is not willing to give in to all of Pyongyang’s demands.
North Korea wants the Manyongbong-92 ferry to begin regular journeys between its east coast port of Wonsan and Niigata, on the west coast of Japan.
Niigata was, ironically, the hometown of Megumi Yokota, who is the most famous of all the Japanese abductees. She was kidnapped and forced aboard a dinghy in November 1977, at the age of 13, and taken to Pyongyang. North Korea insists she committed suicide in 1994, although her parents still hold out hope that she is alive.
Tokyo banned the ferry from Japanese ports in 2006, after North Korea conducted its first nuclear test. Previously, it had taken North Korean residents of Japan and consignments of Japanese goods back to the North.
Rumours abounded that it was also used to import narcotics and North Korean agents into Japan.
“It is very important that all the Japanese nationals who were taken are permitted to come back,” said Ken Kato, a Tokyo-based human rights activist. “North Korea says it will carry out another search, but that’s nonsense, as they already know what happened to each of them and where the survivors are, so it should be quite easy for them,” Kato told the South China Morning Post.
“But as there are no guarantees that they will actually do what they promise to do, I think Japan needs to have safeguards included in any agreement,” he said. “Japan should make it clear that sanctions will be lifted for a month or two and if there is no genuine progress in that time, then even more restrictive sanctions should be put back in place.”