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North Korea and Japan reopen talks four years on

Japan and North Korea held low-level diplomatic talks in Beijing on Wednesday, the first face-to-face discussions since 2008. The development is seen as a small but significant step after decades of mutual distrust.

The government in Tokyo said that a pair of relatively junior diplomats conducted the low-level talks, the first attempt by Japan and North Korea to re-establish diplomatic ties since 2008. The two countries have made similarly small steps several times over the past decades but without success.

The discussions in the Chinese capital, Beijing, after which officials from both sides remained tight-lipped, were set to last either one or two days, potentially continuing on Thursday.

Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba had said before the talks that they would serve as "a preliminary consultation to resume the official consultations between the two governments."

The modest development comes less than a year after Kim Jong-Un took over the leadership of Communist North Korea from his father Kim Jong-Il, who died in December. The international community has been trying to gauge the stance of the new strongman.

Japan is seeking more information on the fate of citizens abducted by North Korean agents in the 1970s and '80s. The North admitted in 2002 it had done so to train its spies in Japanese language and culture, and later allowed five of them to return home. The country has also complained about the North's past ballistic missile and underground nuclear tests.

North Korea, meanwhile, is aggrieved about Japan's colonization of the peninsula early in the 20th century - as well as the treatment of ethnic Koreans in Japan.

Japanese government officials had said before the talks that progress could result in development aid for North Korea's impoverished government. Japan is also considered a desired trading partner for the North.

msh/rc (AFP, dpa)