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Asia-Pacific
Japan and N Korea hold talks in Beijing
Discussions to cover issue of returning the remains of Japanese nationals as bitter history divides the two countries.
Last Modified: 29 Aug 2012 11:06
Ties between Japan and N Korea have been under strain, especially after Pyongyang's ballistic missile test [AFP]

Japan and North Korea are set to meet on Wednesday in their first face-to-face talks in four years.

The talks, in the Chinese capital Beijing, are expected to last for at least a day.

Ties between the countries have long been strained amid decades of mutual distrust, though they periodically try to resume dialogue with the ultimate and so far elusive goal of establishing formal diplomatic relations.

Japanese media say they will focus on the return of the remains of Japanese nationals who died in the north of the Korean peninsula during the second world war.

The talks come as governments and analysts seek clues about the emerging foreign policy of North Korea's leader Kim Jong-Un, who took over after his father Kim Jong-Il died in December.

The issues that have long bedevilled Japan-North Korea relations, however, remain largely the same so it is unclear how much, if any, progress can be made in the encounter.

Reports suggest Japan may raise the issue of the abduction of its citizens by Pyongyang to train spies in the 1970s and 1980s - a major point of contention.

Choi Jong-Kun, professor of politics at Yonsei University in Seoul, told Al Jazeera: "The talks are very low politics, but also humanitarian as well, between both countries."

Settling the past

North Korea has returned five of the abductees and says the rest are dead, but Japan wants more information.

Japan stressed that the meeting in Beijing was ''preparatory'', but that it could lead to other discussions.

"We have been working based on the principle of settling the unfortunate past and on restoring normal relations," Japan's chief cabinet secretary Osamu Fujimura said in advance of the talks.

From a security standpoint, Japan also remains wary of North Korea's past ballistic missile tests over its territory or aimed at its airspace as well as underground nuclear experiments in 2006 and 2009 and threats of more.

North Korea, meanwhile, craves trade with Japan yet blasts its military alliance with the US, colonisation of the Korean peninsula in the first half of the 20th century and treatment of ethnic Koreans in Japan.

Meanwhile, a group of Japanese arrived in Pyongyang on Tuesday on a 10-day trip aimed at reclaiming the remains of relatives who died in North Korea during World War II reports said.

"Things have proceeded to a stage that is beyond what we had even hoped for. We are extremely grateful," Sadao Masaki, a representative of the group said in Beijing before heading to Pyongyang.

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Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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