North Korea says Japan’s Kishida proposed summit with Kim

North Korea has claimed that Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida requested a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un but said any meeting was unlikely without a policy shift by Tokyo.

There was no immediate comment from Japan’s government on Monday.

In the statement carried by state media, Kim’s sister and senior official, Kim Yo Jong, said Kishida used “another channel” to convey his position that he wants to meet the North Korean leader 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 Pyongyang’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 labelled 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 previously said he wants to hold talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un “without any preconditions” and is personally overseeing efforts to realise the first such leaders’ summit in 20 years. Japanese media reported on Monday he said he was not aware of the North Korean announcement when he was asked about it in parliament.

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 United States and South Korea have been expanding their military drills and trilateral exercises involving Japan in response to North Korea’s accelerating weapons tests.

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 US.

North Korea and Japan do not have diplomatic ties, and their relations have been overshadowed by Pyongyang’s nuclear programme, its past abduction of Japanese nationals and Japan’s 1910-45 colonisation 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.

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