North Korea's signals to Japan intended to weaken 3
2024-07-18 07:34:20

Kim Yo-jong,<strong></strong> North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's sister, is seen in this July 31, 2023 photo. Yonhap

Kim Yo-jong, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's sister, is seen in this July 31, 2023 photo. Yonhap

By Kwak Yeon-soo

North Korea's push for increased engagement with Japan is aimed at using a summit with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida as a stepping stone for talks with the United States, according to experts, Tuesday.

In a statement carried by state-run media on Monday, Kim Yo-jong, the powerful sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, said Kishida made a proposal to meet the reclusive leader. This comes a month after she hinted at a possible future invitation for the Japanese leader to visit Pyongyang.

Relations between the two countries have long been strained due to kidnappings of Japanese nationals and North Korea's banned weapons programs.

Yang Moo-jin, the president of the University of North Korean Studies, said North Korea's repeated signals to Japan are aimed at seeking diplomatic engagement with the U.S. and unwinding Japan's hostile policy toward North Korea.

"North Korea's goals include restarting talks with the U.S. and calling Japan to drop its hostile policy against Pyongyang. Kim's summit with Kishida may allow him to gain financial incentives that can help carry out his 20x10 regional development policy," he said.

The North's 20x10 regional development policy is to construct factories in 20 cities and counties in 10 years to reduce the development gap between urban cities and regional areas.

Hong Min, a senior research fellow at the Korea Institute for National Unification, said North Korea is seeking to improve ties with Japan as a way to weaken the South Korea-U.S.-Japan trilateral relations.

"North Korea is trying to undermine strategic ties between Seoul and its two key security allies — Washington and Tokyo. It also wants to be acknowledged as a nuclear weapons state. Kim's approach to Japan comes as he tries to break out from diplomatic isolation and strengthen his footing in the region," he said.

Experts said South Korea should be aware of the "Korea passing" problem that may arise and come up with feasible plans not to be bypassed in future talks.

"North Korea is likely to exclude South Korea from future talks with Japan and the U.S. The Yoon Suk Yeol administration needs to seek other ways rather than putting emphasis on achieving peace through strength," Yang said.

"Since early last year, North Korea and Japan have been believed to continue a behind-the-scenes push for a possible summit. Like Kishida, who says he is willing to engage in 'unconditional' talks based on national interest, we should be ready for possible talks with Pyongyang."

Hong added, "The U.S. is likely to welcome North Korea's tension-easing gesture. So South Korea should take a cautious stance toward approaching the North Korea issue."