Kim Jong-un’s Sister Says He Might Be Willing to Meet with Japanese PM Kishida

In this photo provided by the North Korean government, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un del
Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP, Yasuyoshi Chiba/Pool Photo via AP

Kim Yo-jong, the politically influential sister of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, said on Thursday that her brother might be willing to meet with Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio provided the latter is “respectful.”

Kishida has been seeking talks with the communist tyrant to discuss the fate of the Japanese civilians North Korea kidnapped in the 1970s and 1980s.

Kim Yo Jong, sister of North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un, attends wreath laying ceremony at Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum in Hanoi, March 2, 2019. (Photo by JORGE SILVA / POOL / AFP) (Photo credit should read JORGE SILVA/AFP via Getty Images)

Kim Yo -jong, sister of North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un, attends wreath laying ceremony at Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum in Hanoi, March 2, 2019. (JORGE SILVA/AFP via Getty Images)

North Korea’s state-run KCNA news agency quoted Kim Yo-jong saying that if Japan “makes a political decision to open a new path for improving ties based on mutual respect and respectful behavior, it is my view that the two countries can open a new future.”

KCNA said Kim qualified her statement by adding that it was only her personal opinion, and she had no knowledge of plans by her brother’s regime to arrange a meeting with Kishida – but she is considered highly influential and occupies a strange position in the strange government of North Korea, often acting as her brother’s spokeswoman and close adviser. Kim Yo-jong is technically only a deputy department director in the North Korean Workers’ Party, but she seems much more influential than officials who technically outrank her.

Kim added that a meeting would be possible only if Kishida “does not lay such a stumbling block as the already settled abduction issue.” She suggested that Japan would be demonstrating “anachronistic hostility and unattainable desire” by dwelling too much on the kidnapping issue.

Japan certainly does not consider the abduction issue “settled,” although many of the victims have died over the years. Japan brings up the nearly two dozen of its citizens known to have been kidnapped over the years by North Korean agents whenever Pyongyang’s human rights record is discussed. North Korea has admitted to some of the abductions, claiming that it wanted to train the victims as “spies,” but it has resisted a full accounting of the sinister program. President Joe Biden met with the families of abductees during his visit to Japan in May 2022 and promised to support their efforts to learn the fate of their loved ones.

Prime Minister Kishida is pushing hard for a diplomatic breakthrough with North Korea, encouraged by some positive feedback from North Korean officials. Kim Yo-jong, among others, speaks of Japan in much less negative terms than she did a few years ago.

Kim Jong-un sent Kishida a respectful message of condolences after Japan’s earthquake last month, at the same time North Korea was declaring South Korea to be an intractable enemy it would no longer negotiate with. Kishida took the condolences as a sign Kim might be willing to talk about other issues.

The Chinese government is reportedly providing some diplomatic assistance behind the scenes to make a summit happen. The Biden administration reportedly is not involved in the process and Kishida’s administration has not consulted with Washington about its possible summit with the Kim regime.

Kishida told the Japanese parliament last week that it was “extremely important” for him to “take the initiative to build top-level ties” with North Korea, and there was no time to lose. Kishida has publicly offered to meet with Kim without any conditions set in advance.

Japanese officials say one of the biggest stumbling blocks is the abductee issue, as Kim Yo-Jong’s comments indicated. Another problem could be the security needs of South Korea and the United States, which would be nervous about North Korea weakening Japan’s commitment to their alliance against Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program – although they might also hope Kishida could establish a more positive relationship with Kim than would be possible for leaders in Seoul or Washington at the moment.

Any sort of breakthrough on the abductees would be a major political win for Kishida back home, so he might be tempted to make concessions that would not be approved by his allies in South Korea or the United States.

“The North Koreans are playing games with the Japanese and the South Koreans, hoping to drive a wedge between them by feeding Seoul’s fears that Tokyo could do a deal with Pyongyang behind its back,” Asan Institute for Policy Studies senior fellow Go Myong-hyun told the Financial Times on Thursday.


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