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Shinzo Abe

Abe-Kim meeting on ice until Japan acknowledges colonial past, says prominent North Korean

Unofficial spokesman Kim Myong-chol says North Koreans in Japan are treated ‘like second-class citizens’ and subjected to ‘discrimination and abuse’

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 07 August, 2018, 6:03pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 07 August, 2018, 11:24pm

North Korea is intensifying its criticism of Japan, dashing Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s hopes that he might be able to convince Kim Jong-un to meet him.

Attacks in Pyongyang’s state media recently include accusations Tokyo is plotting to develop nuclear weapons and planning to “stamp out” the North Korean community in Japan.

Abe on Monday announced that he would be keen to meet Kim to discuss issues of mutual concern, including North Korea’s nuclear programme and Japanese nationals who were in the past abducted by the government’s agents, to “build new Japan-North Korea relations”.

Abe’s apparent optimism came after Foreign Minister Taro Kono had a brief conversation with Ri Yong-ho, his North Korean counterpart at the Asean meeting in Singapore over the weekend and the Yomiuri newspaper even suggested that Abe could meet Kim on the sidelines of the three-day Eastern Economic Forum in the Russian city of Vladivostok in September.

On the same day as Abe was reiterating that he would “not miss any chance” to meet Kim, however, the Korea Central News Agency fired off its latest broadside at Tokyo, accusing Japan of “playing cunning tricks” and “behaving imprudently”. The editorial accused Japan of trying to “stoke the atmosphere of hostility” to the North, adding that Tokyo needs to “honestly reflect on its bloody past crimes of aggression”, issue an apology and pay reparations before talks are possible.

Kim Myong-chol, a member of Chongryun, the association of North Korean residents of Japan, said while relations between the country and many of its ideological foes – notably South Korea and the United States – have warmed in recent months, the possibility of a similar improvement of ties with Japan are negligible right now.

“Japan has hatred for North Korea and it is very difficult for us North Koreans to live in Japan,” said Kim, who is also executive director of the Centre for Korean-American Peace and an unofficial spokesman for Pyongyang.

“For talks to happen, Japan first needs to apologise and recognise the wrongdoings that they committed against the Korean people,” he said. “But they cannot bring themselves to do that.

“The Japanese still make North Koreans living here feel like second-class citizens, they deny us basic rights like education and subject us to discrimination and abuse,” he added. “Japan claims it is a democracy, but it’s not.”

Chongryun was particularly incensed earlier this year when customs officials confiscated souvenirs taken to Japan by a group of North Korean schoolchildren returning from a visit to Pyongyang. The government had already condemned Tokyo for withdrawing subsidies for North Korean schools and universities here and has reported Japan to the UN Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

A summit between Kim and Abe is very unlikely … because Japan refuses to recognise what it did in the colonial period
Kim Myong-chol, Chongryun

In an editorial release on August 6, KCNA said targeting North Korean schools “is just an illegal fascist violence to deprive North Koreans of their right to a national education and stamp out the future of the Korean community in Japan”.

North Korean anger has also been stirred by Tokyo’s efforts to keep crippling international sanctions in place and its insistence that the issue of abducted Japanese nationals has not been settled.

These issues are the reasons Kim Jong-un has had talks with the leaders of South Korea, China and the US, said Kim Myong-chol, but is keeping Abe waiting.

“A summit between Kim and Abe is very unlikely to happen right now because Japan refuses to recognise what it did in the colonial period and continues to make demands on the so-called kidnapping of Japanese nationals,” he said. “Japan has been sidelined and that is why Abe is desperate to meet Kim. Things might get better in the future for Japan, but they must be patient.”