North Korea and Japan are holding their first direct talks in four years. The meeting began on Wednesday, 29 August, and continues on Thursday. The two countries have never had formal diplomatic relations and previous talks have sometimes been held in China. Separately, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is making her second visit to China this year between Thursday 30 August and Friday 31 August, hoping to strengthen trade ties and get assurances of China's support for the Eurozone.
North Korea-Japan Talks
The working-level talks are taking place in Beijing. They are being closely watched for clues about the foreign policy of North Korea’s new leader Kim Jong-Un.
The talks are focused on the topic of repatriation of the bodies of over 21,000 Japanese soldiers who died in North Korea during the Second World War. They will take place between non-government officials.
However, the main aim of the talks is to prepare an agenda for further talks between senior government officials.
It has been remarked that Japan also wants to discuss North Korea’s past abductions of its citizens, though it is unclear if Pyongyang will be forthcoming.
Pyongyang admitted in 2002 that its agents kidnapped Japanese persons in the 1970s and 1980s to help train spies by teaching them the Japanese language and culture. It has been stated that further progress on the issue could yield dividends in humanitarian aid for North Korea.
During the talks, Japan may also try to discuss North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. North Korea, on the other hand, is expected to have different objectives for the meeting, such as procuring money, technical assistance, and food.
It has also been remarked that the meeting could lay the groundwork for improved ties if Japan shows patience.
The meeting follows a visit to China two weeks ago by Kim Jong-Un’s uncle and mentor, Jang Song-Thaek. The visit included meetings with President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao
Report: “North Korea, Japan hold first direct talks in four years” [Channel News Asia, 27 August 2012]
Report: “North Korea’s meeting with Japan a sign of the changing times” [Vancouver Sun, 27 August 2012]
Report: “Japanese visit N. Korea in search of WWII remains” [Asia One News, 27 August 2012]
German Chancellor Angela Merkel visits China
German leader Angela Merkel has arrived in China, on her second trip to the country this year. The relationship between Germany and China, the world's top two exporters, went through a decidedly chilly phase after Ms. Merkel received the Dalai Lama in Berlin in 2007, but she has toned down her criticism of China's human rights record in recent years and shifted her focus to economic links.
Ms. Merkel will be taking seven ministers with her for full-fledged consultations between the two governments, a format which was until recently reserved for Berlin's closest European partners.
Ms. Merkel's visit to China comes against the backdrop of dire forecasts of a difficult September for the Eurozone. According to Sanjaya Baru, Director for Geo-economics and Strategy, International Institute for Strategic Studies, Ms. Merkel's China trip should be seen as an effort to assert leadership across the Eurozone.
Analysts view the China-Germany relationship as one that will shape the overall China-EU relationship. But some worry that Germany, in pursuit of purely short-term economic interests, might forsake long-term strategic interests and concerns about China's human rights record, environmental problems, press freedoms, and other political and geopolitical issues.
Analysis: Euro woes follow Merkel to China [TODAY, 29 Aug 2012]
Report: German Leader Looks to Reassure Chinese on Euro [CNBC, 28 Aug 2012]