Japan’s Prime Minister vowed Monday to “break the shell of mutual distrust” with North Korea by meeting leader Kim Jong-un face-to-face and restoring diplomatic relations between the two historic foes, Korea Times informs.
In a major policy speech to mark the opening of parliament, Shinzo Abe also vowed to push Sino-Japan ties “to a new stage” and pledged a record budget to improve crumbling infrastructure in the world’s third-biggest economy.
“I will act resolutely, never failing to seize every opportunity to break the shell of mutual distrust, and I myself will directly face Chairman Kim Jong-un next to resolve North Korea’s nuclear and missile issues, as well as the abductions issue,” Abe said.
Abe gave no timeframe for a potential meeting with the North Korean leader but the comments came as Kim has ordered preparation for a second summit with President Donald Trump, likely towards the end of next month.
Earlier this month, the Japanese Prime Minister floated the idea of a Kim summit, and asked by a reporter about the potential meeting, Abe then said that last year’s summit between the North Korean leader and President Trump meant the “situation has greatly changed” and as both sides work toward further talks, “I think next time around I will also have to face Kim Jong-un.”
Abe’s conciliatory message contrasted sharply from a year ago, when the Japanese Prime Minister used the same parliamentary address to set out a hardline approach, pledging to “compel North Korea to change its policies” and describing Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programmes as an “unprecedentedly grave and urgent threat.”
On China, Abe said ties had “completely returned to a normal path” after he visited President Xi Jinping in Beijing last year. Xi is expected to make his first official visit to Japan in 2019.
“I will strongly pursue diplomacy with neighbours for a new era… in order to make northeast Asia truly a land of stable peace and prosperity,” he said.
Bilateral ties were harmed in 2012 when Tokyo “nationalized” disputed islands in the East China Sea also claimed by Beijing. Until recently, neither nation had made much effort to improve relations, Channel News Asia writes.
But Japan’s business community has long urged Abe to improve ties with China, Tokyo’s largest trade partner as well as the biggest source of foreign tourists, who are collectively becoming a key driver of Japan’s chronically fragile economy.