North Korean and Japanese Red Cross representatives are set to conduct talks later this week in Beijing, marking the first such discussion for a decade.
Chosun Central News Agency (KCNA) reported the news in a short dispatch yesterday, stating simply, "Talks between the DPRK Red Cross Society and Japan Red Cross Society will be held in Beijing, China on August 9 and 10."
Although KCNA did not elaborate on the agenda, the Japanese Red Cross revealed in its own press release that the focus of the discussion, which the Japanese side proposed, will be on dealing with the retrieval of the remains of Japanese citizens who died on Korean soil during World War II.
The Japanese government has long regarded the issue as one of importance, but has avoided approaching North Korea on it due to the negative overall state of bilateral relations. Nevertheless, it believes that the remains of as many as 21,000 of its citizens still lie inside the North.
The acceptance of the Japanese request for a meeting marks the second interesting development in relations between the old enemies in recent weeks, following the visit to Pyongyang of another Japanese citizen, Kim Jong Il’s former private chef Fujimoto Kenji, upon an invitation from Kim Jong Eun.
Although Kim’s former chef was keen to note the private nature of the trip, it has raised expectations of a possible thaw in bilateral relations.
However, it is unclear how the meeting later this week will go. As a Japanese Red Cross official told The Japan Times today, "I suppose we'll begin the talks with a clean slate. We can't foresee at this point what we may be able to agree on."
In addition, on the same day that KCNA reported news of the meeting between the two sides, it also released a commentary berating Japan for its wartime use of Korean citizens as ‘comfort women’.
In the piece, ‘KCNA Commentary Brands Japan a Corrupt Country’, the North declared;
“The sexual slavery committed by the Japanese imperialists was a hideous crime against humanity which can hardly be found in human history.
Nevertheless, the Japanese authorities still refuse to make honest apology and reparation for Japan's past barbarous crimes.
Japan's prime minister takes the lead in it. He has made unethical remarks, claiming that the expression of sexual slavery for the Japanese army was wrong. These thoughtless remarks made by the chief executive are enough to indicate the stand and attitude of Japanese politicians to the issue of post-war handling of Japan.”
Forestalling any suggestion of an impending agreement on issues including both the recovery of wartime remains but also the even thornier bilateral issue of North Korea’s abduction of Japanese civilians from the west coast of the country during the 1970s, the piece concluded decisively, “If the thrice-cursed crimes committed by the Japanese army in violating women's rights are tolerated, there will be no need to discuss the genuine morality and human rights of the world.”