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Delegation from Japan visiting North Korea

Sept 16,2019
이미지뷰
Shingo Kanemaru, the second son of late Japanese Deputy Prime Minister Shin Kanemaru, center, poses with a Japanese delegation to North Korea upon their arrival in Pyongyang on Saturday. [YONHAP]
A Japanese delegation of around 60 people arrived in Pyongyang on Saturday, headed by Shingo Kanemaru, the second son of late Japanese Deputy Prime Minister Shin Kanemaru.

“The delegation is said to be meeting with Choe Ryong-hae to receive Pyongyang’s message to the Japanese government,” a South Korean diplomatic source in Tokyo told the JoongAng Ilbo on Sunday.

Choe is the president of North Korea’s Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly and the country’s nominal second-in-command. He will be the highest-ranking official of the North Korean government to meet with an official delegation from Japan in recent months if the meeting comes to fruition.

The delegation will be visiting North Korea through Thursday and will be celebrating the 105th anniversary of Shin Kanemaru’s birthday in Pyongyang on Tuesday, according to Japan’s Kyodo News.

This is not the first time Shingo Kanemaru is visiting Pyongyang. He accompanied his father during his meeting with the North’s founder Kim Il Sung in September 1990, and the pair signed a joint statement that called for Japan to pay compensation for its occupation of the Korean Peninsula from 1910 to 1945.

The meeting was considered a breakthrough in Japanese-North Korean relations at the time. Japan and North Korea began their bilateral talks on normalizing relations in 1991.

Shingo Kanemaru also visited Pyongyang in October last year to meet with Song Il-ho, the North Korean ambassador for normalization talks with Japan.

Some experts have read the recent move as Japan’s attempt to improve relations with the North to pressure South Korea, as tensions between Seoul and Tokyo have increased amid disputes over trade restrictions and thorny historical issues.

“We have to pay attention to who the Kanemaru delegation will be meeting with in Pyongyang,” a diplomatic source told the JoongAng Ilbo. “There are talks of a meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un happening within this year. At such a time as this, we have to see if North Korea is sincere in improving relations with Japan.”

The Kanemaru delegation’s visit to Pyongyang is likely to be followed by another visit by Japan at the end of September, according to Japanese media reports.

The Japan Medical Association‘s Mitsuaki Maseki will lead a delegation including former lawmakers to Pyongyang at the end of this month to visit sites and research possibilities of providing medical aid in the future, the Japan Times reported Sunday.

Some experts have noted that the visits from Japan to North Korea appear to have increased since the inauguration of Shigeru Kitamura as the new head of the National Security Secretariat of Japan.

Kitamura has close relations with both Abe and his North Korean counterparts and was the head of the Japanese intelligence agency, Cabinet Intelligence and Research Office, from 2011 to September this year.

Kitamura joined the National Police Agency of Japan in 1980 and was in charge of police responses to the abduction of Japanese citizens by North Korea.

He headed the Japan-North Korea discussion on the abduction issue held in Mongolia in October last year. He was also in charge of the secret meeting with Kim Song-hye, a senior official from the North’s Propaganda and Agitation Department of the ruling Workers’ Party, in Vietnam in July last year.

BY ESTHER CHUNG, YOON SEOL-YOUNG [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]