TOKYO — Japan will uphold a ban on economic aid to North Korea despite the North’s removal from a U.S. list of terrorist states, until there is progress in a dispute over the fate of Japanese citizens abducted by Pyongyang decades ago, Prime Minister Taro Aso said on Tuesday.
His comments underline the divide between Tokyo, which remains focused on the abductions, and other parties to six-way talks aimed at ending North Korea’s nuclear program, including South Korea, which has urged Japan to help provide energy aid for the North.
The Japanese government has also come under fire from some domestic media and relatives of kidnapped Japanese as well as opposition politicians for failing to persuade the United States to keep North Korea on its terrorist blacklist until the feud over the abductees is settled.
The United States, seeking to revive stalled talks on North Korean denuclearisation, removed Pyongyang from the list on Saturday after the two sides agreed measures to verify its nuclear facilities.
But Japan remains wary.
“We have said before that unless progress is made in Japan-North Korea relations, including on the abductees issue, then we will not participate in the economic and energy aid under the six-party talks, and there is no change in that stance,” Aso told a parliamentary committee on Tuesday.
South Korea has asked Japan to join others in resuming aid for North Korea, Chief Cabinet Secretary Takeo Kawamura told a news conference on Tuesday, adding that such aid was not possible.
A senior opposition Democratic Party executive accused the government of failure over the abductees. Five of them have returned to Japan, but Tokyo is demanding information about eight more Pyongyang confessed to kidnapping and a further four Japan suspects were also victims.
“To sum up, your attempt to work with the United States to resolve or make progress on the issue has collapsed,” Masayuki Naoshima told Aso in parliament.
Aso denied this, citing Washington’s assurances on the abductions, but expressed scepticism about the U.S. agreement on verification with North Korea.
“I believe they are at cross purposes,” he said. “I think the United States has agreed on what it thinks is the understanding and North Korea has agreed on what it thinks is the deal. But I think the two are a little different.”