Japan’s Prime Minister Abe Shinzo told the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday he is open to meeting North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un in person in an attempt to “normalize” relations between the two countries, strained by Japan’s brutal conquest of Korea in the 20th century and Pyongyang’s ceaseless belligerence since becoming a communist state.
Abe enthusiastically supported President Donald Trump’s approach to the North Korean problem of simply meeting Kim and attempting to reach a middle ground with minimal bureaucracy.
Trump’s approach has yielded three in-person meetings with Kim, the first time a North Korean dictator has met an American president. Kim has not tested a nuclear weapon since 2017 and diverted most of his country’s belligerence towards the United States over to Japan, instead, regularly “testing” short-range missiles in Japan’s direction.
On paper, Trump and Kim have only agreed to work towards “denuclearization,” but Washington and Pyongyang disagree on the definition of the word.
Abe spent most of his speech discussing women’s rights and economic opportunity.
“One of the country’s primary objectives is to harness the power of individuals one by one. To continue to do so is at the very essence of what Japan can contribute to the rest of the world,” Abe told the General Assembly, boasting of skyrocketing labor participation rates for women in his country, but omitting that, given strict misogynist traditions that limit women’s opportunities in Japan, that has been paired with a plummeting birth rate.
“If women were able to demonstrate the potential they hold, the world would sparkle that much more. But that is an obvious truth, isn’t it?” Abe asked. “In Japan, where the labor participation rate for women has seen a marked rise, we are witnessing that self-evident fact on a daily basis.”
Following an extensive story about Japanese citizens volunteering in Africa, Abe turned to the issue of North Korea.
“Japan supports the approach taken by President Trump, the approach by which the two leaders talk candidly with each other and try to work out the issues at hand while seeing a bright future ahead has changed the dynamics surrounding North Korea,” he told the audience. “I am determined to meet Chairman Kim Jong-un myself face to face without attaching any conditions.”
“Japan’s unchanging objective is to normalize its relations with North Korea through comprehensively resolving the outstanding issues of concern with North Korea – including the abductions, nuclear, and missile issues, as well as settling the unfortunate past.”
The Japanese government believes North Korea has abducted nearly 1,000 Japanese citizens, likely forcing them to teach North Korean spies the Japanese language and customs so they can blend in. North Korea has admitted that it kidnapped 13 Japanese citizens. Despite most of the instances being cases from the 1970s and 1980s, Japanese officials believe many of the individuals are still alive and have been indoctrinated, like the citizens of North Korea, to worship the Kim family.
Abe’s mention of “the unfortunate past” appears to be a reference to Japan’s occupation of Korea, in which Imperial Japan committed countless crimes against humanity against the Korean people. Among the most well-known is the use of sex slaves, or “comfort women,” who endured rape by Japanese soldiers on a regular basis as a form of morale-boosting during World War II.
Elsewhere in his speech, Abe noted the attack on one of Saudi Arabia’s top oil facilities this month, calling it an “extremely contemptible crime that holds the international economic order hostage,” and championed the use of “multilateral frameworks and globalism” to lift individuals out of poverty.
“The world does indeed change. We are able to change it through the efforts we make,” Abe concluded.
Abe first offered to meet Kim Jong-un without preconditions in May, following the collapse of talks between Kim and Trump in Vietnam. He said meeting personally could potentially “break the current mutual distrust.”
“I would like to meet him without setting preconditions and hold frank discussions. I hope he’s a leader who can determine flexibly and strategically what is best for his country,” Abe said at the time.
North Korea appears actively unprepared for such diplomatic discussion. As recently as this Tuesday, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) – North Korea’s official state propaganda outlet – was publishing stories condemning “Japanese imperialists” for World War II crimes.
“They cooked up the ‘Korea Mining Act’ in December 1915 in order to ensure their monopolistic and massive loot,” KCNA complained. “After provoking the war of aggression on the continent and the Pacific War, their moves to pillage underground resources became more desperate.”
“Japan should apologize and make reparation to the Korean people for all the crimes it committed in Korea in the last century,” KCNA insisted on Tuesday, making a demand that has become a nearly daily occurrence in state media.
KCNA also directly attacked Abe for his longtime desire to expand the role of the Japanese military. Japan technically does not have a military – only “self-defense forces” – as a concession to the world following World War II. Abe has argued that Japan has paid its debts from that war and is now a different country, one clearly responsible enough to have a military.
“[T]he island nation is working hard to turn itself into a military giant and realize the wild ambition for overseas expansion,” KCNA warned this week. “Japan’s desperate moves for constitutional revision are aimed to turn itself into a war state by setting up a legal and institutional mechanism for unleashing a war.”
North Korea’s foreign minister is expected to address the U.N. General Assembly this week.