Abe vows Kim meeting to ‘break shell of mutual distrust’

TOKYO (AFP) – Japan’s Prime Minister vowed yesterday 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.

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… 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 US President Donald Trump, likely towards the end of next month.

“I will aim at diplomatic normalisation by settling the unfortunate past,” Abe said, using a Japanese diplomatic euphemism referring to harm caused by Japan during its brutal colonisation of the Korean peninsula before and during World War II.

The conciliatory message contrasted sharply from a year ago, when Abe 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”.

Abe has long sought to resolve an emotional row related to North Korean agents’ abduction of Japanese nationals during the Cold War era to train Pyongyang’s spies.

Pyongyang released what it said were the five survivors in 2002, and said eight others it admitted kidnapping had all died.

North Korean authorities have given no public indication of any willingness to meet Abe, while Pyongyang’s state media regularly excoriate Japan over its past history and Abe for ramping up defence spending.

A commentary by the official KCNA news agency earlier this month called Japan a “heinous criminal state against humanity” and an “immoral and impudent country”.

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.