After Seoul forges ties with Cuba, N. Korea courts Japan for engagement

Posted on : 2024-02-16 16:44 KST Modified on : 2024-02-16 17:24 KST
Kim Yo-jong even floated the idea of the Japanese prime minister visiting Pyongyang
Kim Yo-jong, a senior Workers’ Party of Korea official and sister of Kim Jong-un. (Yonhap)
Kim Yo-jong, a senior Workers’ Party of Korea official and sister of Kim Jong-un. (Yonhap)

North Korea’s Kim Yo-jong announced on Thursday that there would be “no reason” for Pyongyang and Tokyo to not enjoy closer ties, even suggesting that the Japanese prime minister could visit the North. 

“If Japan drops its bad habit of unreasonably pulling up the DPRK over its legitimate right to self-defence and does not lay such a stumbling block as the already settled abduction issue in the future way for mending the bilateral relations, there will be no reason for the two countries not to become close and the day of the prime minister's Pyongyang visit might come,” the Workers’ Party of Korea vice department director and younger sister of Kim Jong-un said in a statement published by the state-run Korean Central News Agency. 
This seems to be a proactive move on North Korea’s part, angling at a summit with Japan in response to South Korea establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba one day prior.
In Thursday’s press statement, Kim declared that if Japan makes a “political decision to open up a new way of mending” the relations between the two sides, Pyongyang and Tokyo “can open up a new future together.”
Kim’s statement follows remarks made by Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida at a parliamentary budget meeting last week. When asked about the possibility of a summit with North Korea during the meeting, Kishida had said that Tokyo is “making various concrete efforts,” and that in light of the current state of relations between the two sides, he saw it as “extremely important [. . .] to take the initiative and build a relationship.” 

Kishida has previously stated that he would push for a summit with his counterpart in Pyongyang to resolve the issue of North Korean abductions of Japanese citizens. 

Kishida’s recent remarks appear to have been met favorably in Pyongyang. 

“I also take note of the fact that Japanese media commented with regard to Prime Minister Kishida's remarks that the stand on the DPRK-Japan relations expressed by him was different from the previous one,” Kim said in her published statement. “I think there would be no reason not to appreciate his recent speech as a positive one, if it was prompted by his real intention to boldly free himself from the past fetters and promote the DPRK-Japan relations.”
It is unusual for Kim, who has been issuing public statements since 2019, to read Kishida’s comments so generously. “I think our state leadership still has no idea of repairing the DPRK-Japan relations and has no interest in contact,” she wrote, urging the Japanese government to adopt a different stance on matters between it and Pyongyang. 
News of the establishment of diplomatic relations between South Korea and Cuba is seen as having played a role in Kim’s press statement.
In the many previous statements she has released, Kim has generally added the disclaimer of “by delegation,” signifying that she is conveying the words of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. But Thursday’s statement concluded with the phrase: “This is just my personal view only.”
However, given that Kim Jong-un will be representing North Korea at a possible North Korea-Japan summit, it is difficult to say that the opinions expressed in this statement are at odds with that of the North Korean leader himself.
Kim Jong-un also sent a message of sympathy to the Japanese prime minister on Jan. 5, when a magnitude 7.6 earthquake struck Japan’s Noto Peninsula, located in the Ishikawa Prefecture. Kim is said to have “expressed his deep sympathy and condolences to the prime minister and, through him, to the bereaved families and victims, upon the sad news that big casualties and material losses were caused by earthquakes in Japan from the outset of the new year.”
Amidst these developments, Seoul’s presidential office and the Yoon Suk-yeol administration underscore that South Korea has finally realized an age-old foreign policy aim by forging diplomatic ties with Cuba.  
A senior presidential office official on Thursday called the establishment of diplomatic ties “a long-cherished ambition” of Korean diplomacy. “While Cuba is under US sanctions, it is a key country in Central and South America that maintains diplomatic relations with more than 190 countries. Furthermore, over a hundred countries have embassies in Havana. Cuba has played quite an important role in third-world diplomacy and continues to do so today.”
Seoul also placed emphasis on the idea that establishing official ties with Cuba, which considers itself a “brother” to North Korea, will deal a diplomatic blow to the North.
“In the end, establishing ties with Cuba clearly illustrates the course of history and the countries that are moving in the right direction. This will inevitably be a considerable political and psychological blow [for North Korea],” said a high-ranking official in Korea’s presidential office.
“This is the final stage in our foreign policy toward former members of the Socialist Bloc, including the countries of Eastern Europe, which were once friends of North Korea,” the official added.
Yet another senior ruling party official noted the role Cuba could play when it comes to North Korea. 
“This means that Cuba has become a partner we can talk with as part of the international community’s work on North Korea. Since Cuba is a member of the UN, we can now ask it to cooperate as needed or call for responsible behavior [from North Korea],” the People Power Party official told the Hankyoreh on Thursday. 

“Even after Russia established diplomatic relations with South Korea in 1990 and China did the same in 1992, they maintained different stances toward South and North Korea in regard to political issues and economic and cultural issues,” said Lim Eul-chul, the director of the North Korea Research Center at Kyungnam University’s Institute for Far Eastern Studies. 

Lim further predicted that Cuba will “discreetly maintain its traditional friendly relations with North Korea while increasing exchange with South Korea for its economic advantage.”

By Kim Mi-na, staff reporter; Kwon Hyuk-chul, staff reporter

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