Japan's chief envoy to the six-party talks on the North Korean nuclear program is in Beijing to help plan the next round of negotiations, which are expected next month. In addition, as VOA's Steve Herman reports from Tokyo, he is under pressure to make sure the issue of Japanese kidnapped by North Korea is not forgotten.
Among the parties to the talks on North Korea's nuclear weapons, Japan has taken the uncharacteristic role of hardliner. Not only do Japanese fear being a first-strike target, but emotions run high over the fate of Japanese abducted by North Korean agents during the 1970s and 1980s.
The precise number of those kidnapped is not known. Japan's government recognizes 17 men and women as abduction victims, but support groups say the number could be in the hundreds.
North Korea has acknowledged abducting 13 Japanese. Five have been allowed to return home, but Pyongyang says the other eight have died.
Relatives of some abductees still unaccounted for met Sunday with a top Japanese government official.
Despite Japan's pressure on North Korea to resolve the issue, through public statements, diplomacy and sanctions tied to North Korea's nuclear weapons development, the families say the government is not doing enough.
Sakie Yokota is the mother of Megumi Yokota, whom Pyongyang admitted abducting when she was 13-years-old. The North Koreans say she later committed suicide.
Yokota says, if North Korea continues to take an obstinate approach, and refuses to release those still being held, then Japan has to firmly tell Pyongyang its attitude is unacceptable.
After meeting with the family members, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuhisa Shiozaki told reporters, Japan will raise the matter at the next round of multi-party talks with North Korea.
Shiozaki admits the administration needs to do a better job at ensuring the families have the latest information, but says the Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is serious about resolving this matter.
Mr. Abe is seen as more hardline on the issue than his predecessor, Junichiro Koizumi, who twice visited Pyongyang to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. Analysts say Mr. Koizumi was reluctant to take harsh action against the communist state, because North Korea was not completely open on the abduction issue.
North Korea's missile tests this year, and its first nuclear test in October, also produced a firm response from Japan, which imposed harsh economic sanctions against Pyongyang, even beyond those called for in a United Nations resolution.
North Korea agreed to end its year-long boycott, and return to nuclear talks last month, in return for a U.S. promise to discuss its financial crackdown against Pyongyang. The six-party negotiations also include South Korea, Russia and host China.
Japan welcomed North Korea's return to the talks, but stated categorically that it would not accept North Korea as a nuclear power.
Japan's envoy, Vice Foreign Minister Kenichiro Sasae, will start his three-day visit to Beijing meeting Monday with his Chinese counterpart, Wu Dawei. He is also expected to meet with his counterparts from the United States and South Korea, as the envoys converge on the Chinese capital to prepare for the talks.