Japan and North Korea have begun two days of talks in Beijing. The Japanese will be pressing to establish dialogue on key issues, including North Korea's abduction of Japanese citizens.
Japan and North Korea have made little progress in recent years on establishing diplomatic relations. The last talks on that specific issue were held more than three years ago.
Before this new round of talks, Japanese officials said a prerequisite to resuming discussion of normalized ties will be Pyongyang's willingness to set up standing panels on several urgent issues, including security matters, and the Cold War-era abductions of Japanese citizens by North Korean agents.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe says Japan will press hard for North Korea to return any surviving abductees, and to hand over to Tokyo anyone involved in the kidnappings.
Mr. Abe says that Japan will approach the talks sincerely, and he hopes North Korea has the same attitude. But he reiterates that Tokyo will not normalize relations with Pyongyang, until the abduction issue is resolved.
Analysts say Japan believes it can hold out the prospect of formal diplomatic relations - something Pyongyang has long desired - to achieve progress on Tokyo's primary concerns.
North Korea has insisted it has provided full details on the abductions, and proof that no more Japanese who were kidnapped are still alive. Pyongyang has also repeatedly insisted that, for relations to be formalized, Tokyo must pay compensation to the
communist state for Japan's 35-year colonization of the Korean peninsula. That lasted until 1945, when Japan surrendered to end the Second World War.
As the bilateral talks begin, separate six-way discussions on North Korea's nuclear weapons programs are on hold. Those talks, hosted by China, also include both Koreas, Japan, the United States and Russia.
North Korea has said it will not resume participation in the six-way talks because of what it calls American hostility. The United States has recently imposed sanctions on North Korean entities allegedly involved in currency counterfeiting, drug trafficking and
other illegal activities. The U.S. ambassador to South Korea recently called North Korea a "criminal regime."