Until the late 1980s, North Korea's post-World War II policy toward Japan was mainly aimed at minimizing cooperation between Japan and South Korea, and at deterring Japan's rearmament while striving for closer diplomatic and commercial ties with Japan. Crucial to this policy was the fostering within Japan of support for North Korea, especially among the Japanese who supported the Japanese communist and socialist parties and the Korean residents of Japan. Over the years, however, North Korea did much to discredit itself in the eyes of many potential supporters in Japan. Japanese who had accompanied their spouses to North Korea had endured severe hardships and were prevented from communicating with relatives and friends in Japan. Japan watched with disdain as North Korea gave safe haven to elements of the Japanese Red Army, a terrorist group. North Korea's inability and refusal to pay its debts to Japanese traders also reinforced popular Japanese disdain for North Korea.
Coincidental with the changing patterns in its relations with China and Russia, North Korea has moved to improve its strained relations with Japan. P'yongyang's primary motives appear to be a quest for relief from diplomatic and economic isolation, which has also caused serious shortages of food, energy, and hard currency. Normalization of relations with Japan also raises the possibility of North Korea's gaining monetary compensation for the period of Japan's colonial rule (1910-45), a precedent set when Japan normalized relations with South Korea.
The first round of normalization talks was held January 30- 31, 1991, but quickly broke down over the question of compensation. P'yongyang has demanded compensation for damages incurred during colonial rule as well as for "sufferings and losses" in the post-World War II period. Japan, however, insists that North Korea first resolve its differences with South Korea over the question of bilateral nuclear inspections. Other points of contention are North Korea's refusal both to provide information about Japanese citizens who had migrated to North Korea with their Korean spouses in the 1960s, and to discuss the case of Yi Un Hee, a Korean resident of Japan whom North Korean agents had allegedly kidnapped to North Korea to teach Japanese in a school for espionage agents. As of mid-1993, several rounds of talks had yet to produce any significant progress toward normalization of relations.
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