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Japan and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea began bilateral talks on Thursday in Mongolia as Tokyo hopes to use the opportunity to shed light on a series of decades-old abductions.
Experts said Japan is attempting to break the diplomatic deadlock with neighboring countries rather than improve ties with the DPRK.
The talks in the Mongolian capital of Ulan Bator are scheduled to last through Friday.
In August, lower-level negotiators from Japan and the DPRK held the first bilateral talks in four years, but made little progress, according to media reports.
Tokyo wants information on Japanese citizens abducted by DPRK agents in the 1970s and 1980s.
Japan believes that some of the people who were abducted may still be alive and in the DPRK, which Pyongyang denies. Five abductees were returned to Japan in 2002.
Japan and the DPRK do not have formal diplomatic relations. The abduction issue and concerns over the DPRK's nuclear and missile programs have long strained Japan-DPRK ties.
Japanese officials indicated before the meeting that they expected the talks to be tough and not likely to lead to any immediate breakthroughs, while Pyongyang's official media provided few details, mentioning only that the talks were intended to deal with issues of mutual interest.
Japan imposed strict sanctions against the DPRK and cut off most economic and cultural exchanges in 2006 after a rocket launch by Pyongyang.
Tensions heightened again earlier this year when the DPRK launched a rocket that it claimed carried a satellite. Japan and other countries criticized it as a long-range missile test. The launch failed soon after taking off.
Japan is eager to break the deadlocked ties, caused mainly by maritime disputes with neighboring countries including China and the Republic of Korea, said Huang Youfu, a professor of Korean studies at the Minzu University of China.
"Japan attempted to win support from Europe through Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba's recent visit to major European countries, but the visit seems to have been less effective than expected, so Tokyo has turned to other countries in Asia for support," he said.
The DPRK would like to break its isolated status on the international stage, so Pyongyang will not refuse talks with Japan, said Shen Shishun, an expert on Asia-Pacific studies at Haikou College of Economics in Hainan province.
As the negotiators met in Mongolia, a group of university athletes from Japan's top sports university held a rare series of friendly competitions with students in Pyongyang.
On Wednesday, a soccer match between the teams of the University of Physical Education of the DPRK and the Nippon Sport Science University Group was held at Kim Il-sung Stadium in Pyongyang, said DPRK's Korean Central News Agency.
According to the agency, delegation leaders from Japan also laid a floral basket before the statues of late DPRK president Kim Il-sung and late leader Kim Jong-il on Mansu Hill.
The people-to-people exchanges through sports and the official meeting in Mongolia demonstrate Japan's attempt to improve strained diplomatic relations with neighboring countries, Huang said.
The sports exchange gives the two countries more flexibility to deal with their ties, Shen added.
(China Daily 11/16/2012 page11)