Archive for September, 2002

Koreas begin surveying rail links

Thursday, September 26th, 2002


North and South Korea have begun land surveys for a cross-border railway across the heavily-fortified Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) that has separated the two sides since the 1950-53 Korean War.

The work is the latest evidence that the two sides are still co-operating on the goodwill project, despite an international furore over North Korea’s alleged admission that it has a nuclear weapons programme.

The two sides began clearing mines from the border in mid-September in preparation for the transportation links.

But the project has been delayed by North Korea’s refusal to co-operate in agreed landmine removal verification procedures.

The joint survey which began on Tuesday is aimed at finding the best place to connect the railway and road planned for the east side of the peninsula.

This will conclude on Wednesday, followed by similar procedures along the west coast later in the week, South Korea’s unification ministry said.

The two sides will exchange the results of the surveys in early December, South Korean officials said.

The plan is to link the western line to China and the eastern line to Russia, so freight can travel overland to Europe, significantly cutting costs.


The first of the rail links had been scheduled to be re-connected as early as this month.

But a US army general accused North Korea on Tuesday of delaying the project, by demanding two weeks ago that the US-led United Nations Command (UNC) – which supervises the southern half of the DMZ – hand over control of the transportation corridors to the two Koreas.

South Korea’s defence ministry said Pyongyang was refusing to deal with the UNC in arranging mine clearing inspections, arguing that the body had no right to be involved in the project.

Major General James Soligan told cable television YTN that North Korea wanted to retain authority over the transport links so “they could move combat forces into this corridor and challenge the security of South Korea”.


DPRK announces Sinuiju SAR

Wednesday, September 25th, 2002

According to the New York Times (2002-9-25):

In the most significant reversal of economic policy since North Korea was founded, that Communist nation has announced the establishment of an autonomous capitalist investment zone near its border with China.

According to the official Korean Central News Agency, North Korea has adopted legislation mandating the creation of an “international financial, trade, commercial, industrial” zone to be built in the northwestern city of Sinuiju, operating free of central government interference for a period of 50 years.

According to news reports from both North and South Korea, the new zone will seek private capital from China, Japan and South Korea, as well as the West, and will operate its own legal and economic system, and even issue its own passports. Foreigners will reportedly be able to enter without visas, although the government will build walls around the city to control access by North Koreans.

In perhaps the biggest surprise of all, the special economic zone will be run by a Chinese agricultural and manufacturing magnate, Yang Bin, a frequent visitor to North Korea aboard his private jet, and a confidant of the North Korean leader, Kim Jong Il. According to Forbes magazine, Mr. Yang, 39, is China’s second richest man.

A native of Nanjing who has taken Dutch citizenship, Mr. Yang is chairman of Euro-Asia Agriculture Holdings, a grower of orchids and vegetables that was one of China’s most popular stocks with investors until media reports earlier this year raised questions about Mr. Yang’s finances and the firm’s transparency. According to Forbes magazine, his personal fortune is about $900 million.

Mr. Yang has said he will hire Westerners to run the special zone’s legal system along European lines.

“This is an attempt to build Hong Kong north, and it is an extraordinary leap” for North Korea, said Marcus Noland, an expert on the North Korean economy at the Institute for International Economics, in Washington.

Mr. Noland said North Korea had tried to build special economic zones in the past, notably a decade ago in the northeast region of Rajin-Sonbong, but had largely failed because of poor planning and a lack of commitment, perhaps reflecting ambivalence toward a capitalist model so fundamentally at odds with the self-sufficiency and sacrifice preached by North Korea’s Stalinist founder, Kim Il Sung.

The current plans involving a site close to the border with China and right on the rail line to Beijing are, by contrast, ambitious. “The degree of autonomy described in the press reports is greater than the independence granted by the Chinese to their new economic zones in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s,” Mr. Noland said. He called the new venture “an enormous gamble” for Kim Jong Il, who succeeded Kim Il Sung, his father, eight years ago.

North Korea has also toyed recently with building a special economic zone jointly with South Korea, at Kaesong, and granted the Hyundai conglomerate permission to operate there. Hyundai broke up before setting up in the zone, however, and North Korea dragged its feet over opening up rail links there, ostensibly because it got cold feet over allowing South Korea to play such a large direct role in its economy.

Last week, however, the rail link was reconnected for the first time since the end of the Korean War.

The 132-square mile Sinuiju zone lies across the Yalu River from the Chinese city Dandong in a relatively conservative region where the Communist party still holds strong sway, and ethnic Koreans are numerous.

A recent American traveler to the region called Sinuiju “one of the most barren places in Korea.” In bustling Dandong, by contrast, he said, “the railroad station is piled high with fruits, and people are running around with cellphones.”

Nicholas Eberstadt, a Korea expert at the American Enterprise Institute, said: “China’s opening to the outside world was effectuated by a lot of foreign entrepreneurs, members of the diaspora, from Hong Kong and Taiwan. The question has always been where does North Korea get its entrepreneurial talent?

“The obvious answer might seem to be South Korea, but that represents a terrible ideological peril, Mr. Eberstadt said.”They seem to have chosen China.”

Mr. Yang said on Monday that North Korea would build 100,000 greenhouses to grow vegetables for export, with his company handling the sales, the South China Morning Post reported. Although he said work would begin quickly, Mr. Yang did not offer a timetable. The Hong Kong newspaper said the new zone would have no import or export tariffs, and a fixed income tax of 14 percent.

Two months ago, the North Korean government announced a radical overhaul of the exchange rate, wage and price systems. With food production flagging, and industries operating at 10 percent of capacity, according to one diplomat, the government eliminated its food ration system, raised food prices and told factories to make a profit.

“Until recently, you could not even use the word reform, and now not only is it widely accepted, it is always used with a positive connotation,” said a senior United Nations official in Pyongyang, the capital.

Regional political analysts cite a number of factors in the shift. President Bush’s description of North Korea as part of an “axis of evil” may have created a sense of urgency about overcoming isolation, as has China’s irritation over an increasing flow of North Koreans across their mutual border.

South Korea holds crucial presidential elections in December, and North Korea is eager to see a government that favors friendly engagement, rather than isolation.

Until recently, North Korea had treated the doctrine of self-reliance as untouchable, even if dependence on China for food aid and subsidized trade had always made this a partial lie.

“There were a lot of people here in 1995, when the food crisis really began, who said we would rather die than have your food,” an international relief official said in a recent interview in Pyongyang.

After a famine that human rights groups estimate has cost more than two million lives, Kim Jong Il appears to be eager to attract capitalist funds and create a mixed-market communist system like the ones in China and Vietnam.

Last week, Mr. Kim took the surprising step of acknowledging and apologizing for the kidnapping of Japanese in the 1960’s and 1970’s, setting the stage for normalization of relations with wealthy Japan, which in turn apologized for its colonial rule of Korea and is now expected to give $10 billion in aid.

Read the full story here:
North Korea to Let Capitalism Loose in Investment Zone
New York Times
Howard W. French


The BBC reports on more developments at the Sinuiju SAR

Monday, September 23rd, 2002

According to the BBC (2002-9-23):

North Korea’s hardline socialist regime has appointed a Chinese-born entrepreneur to oversee a radical experiment with free-market economics.

Local news agencies reported on Monday that Yang Bin, a 39-year old tycoon listed last year by Forbes magazine as China’s second-richest man, is to run the newly-created ‘special administrative region’ of Sinuiju, next to the border with China.

The North Korean government aims to turn Sinuiju into a capitalist enclave in a country which has until now been cut off from the mainstream global economy.

“It will be a totally capitalist region,” Mr Yang told US cable TV channel CNN.

“It will have its own legislative, judicial and executive powers without any interference from central government.”

Going Dutch

Analysts have said the decision to build a free-market economy in Sinuiju underlines North Korea’s determination to reform after half a century of near-total isolation.

The North Korean government’s choice of chief reform strategist appears to be an astute one.

Born and brought up in China, but now a Dutch citizen, Mr Yang is the founder of a diversified business empire which has amassed him a personal fortune estimated at $900m.

He moved to the Netherlands in the late 1980s and set up a successful textile company before returning to China in the 1990s to start a horticultural business specialising in orchids.

Flower power

Through his Euro-Asia group of companies, Mr Yang now also has interests in tourism and real estate.

Last year, Mr Yang set up a joint venture horticultural company in the North Korean capital Pyongyang which may be the basis for his contacts with the country’s leadership.

However, Mr Yang’s fortunes suffered a temporary setback earlier this year when shares in his Hong Kong listed firm slumped amid investor doubts over its financial position.

The BBC also published this information (2002-9-23):

A Chinese businessman has been chosen to become the chief executive of Sinuiju, a special administrative region created along North Korea’s border with China.

The businessman, Yang Binn, says he will run the area along capitalist lines, creating a free-wheeling capitalist enclave similar to Hong Kong.

He plans to move more than 500,000 people from the 132 square kilometre area along North Korea’s border with China.

There will be a new legal system, possibly based on European law.

There will be elections to a legislature and administrators and judges hired from foreign countries, including the West.

Window to the world

For the hardline socialist state of North Korea, the scope of these changes is unparalleled.

Mr Yang, a Chinese business tycoon, has been hand-picked by North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-Il.

Mr Yang said Mr Kim had created the project as a window for the rest of the world to see that North Korea is experimenting with change.

However, a wall will be built to keep North Koreans out of the self-governing capitalist zone.

Read the full stories here:
Chinese tycoon to lead North Korea reform

North Korea steps up economic reform
Damian Grammaticas


North Koreans in South for games

Monday, September 23rd, 2002


A plane carrying 173 athletes and officials from North Korea has touched down in the South Korean city of Busan ahead of the Asian Games, due to begin on Sunday.

The group is the first part of the largest delegation ever sent by the Communist North to the South.

It is the first time that Northern athletes have attended an international sporting event in the South since the peninsula’s division in 1945.

In another first, the North Korean flag was publicly flown on Southern soil when it was hoisted at the Games village.

But the athletes and officials leaving the plane at the airport were met by the blue and white neutral flag of a united Korean peninsula.

“Thanks for welcoming us,” said one of the delegates as they headed off to the athletes’ village without giving a news conference.

Warming up

Altogether, nearly 700 northerners are due to arrive for the Games.

A second plane carrying 152 people is due to arrive on Friday while a ferry will bring 355 officials and supporters into the port city on Saturday.

Of the 419 gold medals up for grabs at the Games, the North is expected to bag about 10, having won seven at the last Asian Games, held in Thailand in 1998.

With the two Korean states still technically at war, the North has until now shunned all big sporting events hosted by its rival, including the 1986 Asian Games, the 1988 Olympic Games and the 2002 World Cup football finals.

But recent weeks have seen a flurry of both diplomatic and sporting activity as work on a cross-border railway began, families were reunited and the two states held a friendly football match in Seoul.


Sinuiju special administrative region announced

Friday, September 20th, 2002

UPDATE 1: The full statue for the Sinuiju SAR can be found here.

ORIGINAL POST: According to KCNA (2002-9-20):

Basic law of Sinuiju special administrative region

Pyongyang, September 20 (KCNA) — The Sinuiju special administrative region has come into being according to a decree of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. The Presidium of the DPRK Supreme People’s Assembly adopted the basic law of the Sinuiju special administrative region on September 12, Juche 91 (2002). The law consists of six chapters (politics, economy, culture, fundamental rights and duties of residents, structure and emblem and flag of the region) and a total of 101 articles.

According to the law, the region is a special administrative unit under the sovereignty of the DPRK and the state puts the region under the central authority.

The state endues the region with the legislative, executive and judicial power and shall keep the legal system of the region unchanged for 50 years.

The DPRK cabinet, state commissions, ministries and national institutions shall not interfere in the region’s affairs and external affairs concerning the region shall be handled by the state.

The region shall conduct external activities on its own responsibility within the limit approved by the state and can issue its own passports.

The land and natural resources of the region belong to the DPRK and the state allows the region to be turned into an international financial, trade, commercial, industrial, up-to-date science, amusement and tourist centre.

The state shall give the region the rights to develop, use and manage the land and encourage the businesses in the region to hire manpower of the DPRK.

The period of leasing the land of the region shall last until December 31, 2052.

The state shall encourage investments of investors in the region and provide investment environment and conditions for economic activities favorable for businesses.

The DPRK shall encourage the region to properly pursue cultural policies so as to increase its residents’ creativity and meet their demand for cultural and emotional life, introduce up-to-date science and technology and actively develop new domains of science and technology.

The residents shall not be discriminated irrespective of sex, country, nationality, race, language, property status, knowledge, political view and religious belief and foreigners without citizenship shall have the same rights and duties as the residents.

The procedures of moving and travelling to other areas of the DPRK and other countries shall be established by the region.

The legislative council is the legislature of the region and the legislative power shall be exercised by the legislative council.

DPRK citizens of the region can become deputies to the legislative council and foreigners with the right to reside in the region can also hold the same post.

The legislative council shall have chairman and vice-chairmen elected by itself.
The governor shall represent the special administrative region.

The governorship can be taken by a resident of the region who has working ability and enjoys high reputation among the inhabitants.

The governor shall promulgate the decisions of the legislative council and directions of the administration, issue orders and appoint and dismiss members of the administration and the chief of the prosecutor’s office of the region.

The administration is the region’s executive body and general administrative organ.

The chief of the administration is the governor and the posts of department chief of the administration and the chief of the police agency shall be held by residents of the region.

The prosecution affairs of the region shall be undertaken by the prosecutor’s office of the region and the district prosecutor’s offices.

The prosecutor’s office of the region shall be accountable to the governor.

Trial in the region shall be undertaken by the court of the region and district courts. The court of the region is the supreme court.

The region shall use not only the emblem and flag of the DPRK but also its own emblem and flag and the order of their use shall be established by the region.

The region shall apply no other laws but the DPRK laws concerning nationality, emblem, flag, anthem, capital, territorial waters, territorial air and national security.

The Korean version of the article is not available on the KCNA web pages, however, according to the Sijuiju SAR wikipedia page, the Korean name is “신의주 특별 행정구’.

The Wikipedia page for the project is here.


Koreas begin demining border

Thursday, September 19th, 2002


South and North Korean troops have begun clearing landmines from the heavily-fortified Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) that separates the two countries.

Dignitaries watched as about 100 South Korean soldiers, some armed, others carrying demining gear, marched through a previously locked barbed wire gate into the treacherous buffer zone.

South Korean officials said a similar event was taking place in the North.

The work is aimed at clearing two 250-metre (277-yard) corridors through the border so that road and rail links can be reconnected for the first time since the Korean War half a century ago.

Peppered with mines

The work follows spectacular ceremonies on both sides of the border on Wednesday to mark the resumption of the work, which was agreed to two years ago, but has been heavily delayed.

It is just the latest in a series of acts of reconciliation between the rival neighbours, which are still formally at war.

Our correspondent in Seoul, Caroline Gluck, says South Koreans are cynical about the ups and downs in cross-border relations. So much was promised two years ago, when their two leaders met in an historic summit, but so little has been delivered.

Demining the border will prove a challenge for both sides.

“Neither of us (North or South Korea) know where the mines are,” said South Korean Lieutenant Colonel Kim Kye-won.

“We are being very careful in consideration of the safety of the troops involved.”

Passageway to Europe

A South Korean defence ministry spokesman told Reuters news agency the number of mines was a secret, but that some dated from the Korean War, whilst others had been put down recently.

Clearance work is expected to take several months.

The work is symbolic, as it will physically reconnect the divided halves of the peninsula.

But it could also turn Korea into a transport hub.

The project involves two sets of cross-border road and rail links, on the east and west coast of the DMZ.

The plan is to link the western line to China and the eastern line to Russia, so freight can travel overland to Europe, significantly cutting costs.

The first of the rail links is expected to be re-connected as early as November.


Koreas rebuild transport links

Wednesday, September 18th, 2002


North and South Korea have held ceremonies ahead of work to re-link road and rail connections between the two states for the first time in more than 50 years.

Fireworks crackled and balloons were set free at the ceremonies, held simultaneously on either side of the heavily fortified border separating the Koreas.

It is the latest act of reconciliation between the rival neighbours, and came a day after North Korea moved a step closer to normalising relations with Japan following an unprecedented visit to Pyongyang by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.

Work to clear the heavily-mined buffer zone on the border will begin on Thursday, and the first of the rail links is expected to be re-connected as early as November.

The South Korean Prime Minister-designate Kim Suk-soo said he hoped the work would herald a new chapter in relations between the two Koreas.

Symbolic ceremonies

At one of the ceremonies on the South Korean side of Demilitarised Zone (DMZ), workers unlocked a barbed wire gate leading to the border.

South Korea has already built a rail line and road on the western side of the peninsula right up to the DMZ fence, and on Wednesday, a train trundled as far as it could.

Television pictures then showed a South Korean girl dressed as a North Korean step out from behind the fence and link hands with a South Korean boy, as fireworks exploded overhead.

Speaking at Dorasan train station – the last stop on the South’s western rail line – the South Korean prime minister-designate said the two countries had embarked on a “monumental project”.

“We are burying a history marked by the scars of war and the pain of division,” he said.

Closer ties

Rail links between the two Koreas have been cut since the end of the 1950-1953 Korean War.

North and South Korea agreed to re-link the connections two years ago as part of a series of steps to improve relations.

The project involves two sets of cross-border road and rail links, on the east and west coast of the DMZ.

The plan is to link the western line to China and the eastern line to Russia, so freight can travel overland to Europe, significantly cutting costs.


Koreas reach landmark mine deal

Sunday, September 15th, 2002


Military officials from North and South Korea have agreed to start clearing land-mines inside part of the demilitarised zone separating the two countries.

The deal paves the way for the reconnection of cross-border road and rail links, after more than half-a-century of division.

The agreement – between two countries that are still technically at war – was reached after 14 hours of talks in the border village of Panmunjom.

It is due to be formally signed on Wednesday, when the two sides plan to simultaneously start work on cross-border projects.

Work to tear down barbed-wire and clear land-mines inside specified areas within the demilitarised zone is expected to begin on Thursday.

The deal also guarantees the security of workers and soldiers, and provides for the first military hotline between the two countries.

No man’s-land

The BBC’s Caroline Gluck in Seoul says it is a major breakthrough.

The demilitarised zone, a heavily fortified no-man’s-land, has been in place since the end of the Korean war in 1953 – with nearly two million troops stationed on either side.

If the work goes smoothly, one of two planned cross-border railways could be completed by the end of the year.

The South has agreed to provide construction materials to the North to enable the work to be completed.

South Korea regards the routes as a powerful symbol of reconciliation efforts, our correspondent says.

It also believes they could turn the peninsula into a transport hub.

With the lines linked to rail networks in China and Russia, freight could travel overland to Europe, significantly cutting costs.

Opening up?

The Panmunjom talks were part of a broader political agreement reached in August.

High-level talks between the two Koreas resumed last month and have been followed by a series of exchanges.

Limited numbers of elderly relatives from the two Koreas have been holding emotional reunions in the North this weekend after being separated for half-a-century.

They are the fifth round of reunions since the historic Korean summit in June 2000.

Correspondents say that the new agreement comes as North Korea is moving to improve relations with the outside world.

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi is making an unprecedented visit to North Korea on Tuesday


Support for N. Korea slips in Japan community

Sunday, September 15th, 2002

USA Today
Paul Wiseman

For North Korea’s regime, the actions by tight-knit communist sympathizers living in Japan mean it is gradually losing its last international support group.

In one of the oddities left over from the Cold War, tens of thousands of ethnic Koreans living in Japan claim North Korean citizenship. For the past 50 years, even as Japan and South Korea emerged as wealthy democracies and a repressive North Korea slid into poverty, North Korean sympathizers in Japan have:

  • Operated dozens of schools across Japan teaching the Marxist-nationalist ideology of late North Korean strongman Kim Il Sung, the Great Leader.
  • Run what amounts to a North Korean embassy through the Tokyo headquarters of their General Association of Korean Residents in Japan, or Chongryun. The organization issues visas to those who cross the Sea of Japan in ferries from the
  • Japanese port Niigata to visit relatives in North Korea — one of the Stalinist state’s few direct links to the outside world.
  • Helped finance the regime in Pyongyang through murky business dealings, including control of hundreds of pachinko pinball arcades across Japan.

But as Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi prepares to make a historic visit to the North Korean capital Pyongyang Tuesday, Japan’s North Koreans are abandoning their anti-U.S., anti-Japanese, anti-South Korean communist ideology and their financial support for North Korea. “Our generation does not like our children to be taught politics,” says Jun Im Joung, 48, a North Korean shopkeeper in Tokyo who has put three children through Chongryun schools and attended them. (Related story: Newspaper: Leaders set to exchange overtures )

Descendants of laborers

An estimated 1 million ethnic Koreans live in Japan. Most of them are descendants of laborers forcibly brought to Japan before and during World War II and who decided to stay after the conflict ended. More than 600,000 of them keep North or South Korean citizenship. Japan doesn’t recognize North Korean citizenship. “We’re stateless,” says So Chung On, a Chongryun spokesman. The group claims more than 150,000 members, down from a peak of about 300,000 in the 1960s.

The vast majority of Japan’s North Koreans came from what became South Korea when the peninsula was partitioned after World War II, says Sonia Ryang, an anthropologist at Johns Hopkins University. So their support for the communist North over the U.S.-backed South was a choice, not a geographical circumstance.

The decision seems odd now. But in the tumultuous atmosphere after World War II, it made sense: Japan’s Koreans were mostly laborers and naturally sympathized with communists claiming to represent the working class. North Korean dictator Kim Il Sung’s ultimately ruinous policy of juche, or Korean self-reliance, appealed to expatriate Koreans’ fierce sense of patriotism and independence. Being North Korean became a defiant way to protect their Korean identity while living in a Japan where they faced discrimination.

North Korea, which outperformed the South economically into the 1960s, also ingratiated itself with the ethnic Korean community in Japan by supplying scholarships and books.

Koreans in Japan returned the favor, at one time funneling as much as $600 million a year to the impoverished North Korean regime from pachinko parlors. The financial maneuverings seem sometimes to run afoul of the law. Last December, a Chongryun official was arrested on charges of illegally diverting loans from a failed credit union to the organization and to his personal accounts. Chongryun spokesman So dismisses the charges as “politically influenced.”

At school, students learned an uncompromising brand of North Korean communism. “They used to teach all about the ‘U.S. imperialist wolf’ and ‘the South Korean puppet clique,’ ” says Johns Hopkins’ Ryang, herself a graduate of North Korean schools in Japan. Jun Im Joung remembers studying Russian during his years at a pro-Pyongyang high school in Tokyo three decades ago: “Our teachers told us the Soviet Union would control the world.”

Contributions wane

Now that the Soviet Union no longer exists and North Korea is a famine-ridden pariah state, the old rhetoric has lost its appeal. Financial contributions to the North Korean regime have dried up, victims of a decade of economic stagnation in Japan and diminishing enthusiasm for Pyongyang. Enrollment at Chongryun’s 124 schools is down.

Under pressure from parents, the schools scrubbed the communist propaganda out of textbooks a few years ago. Posters at the high school now ask students whether they’ve been practicing their English. This month, Chongryun elementary and middle schools started taking down classroom portraits of Kim Il Sung and his son and successor, the Dear Leader Kim Jong Il.

These days, the schools focus simply on trying to keep Korean language and culture alive in a community that becomes more Japanese every day.

At Tokyo’s Korean high school, the gymnasium is designed to resemble the turtle-shaped warships Korean Adm. Yi Soon Shin used to defeat the Japanese in the 16th century. Girls wear traditional Korean chogori dresses and dance traditional dances. Students practice traditional Korean instruments such as the changgo (drums) and choktae (flute). This month, the school sent a dance troupe to South Korea, an event that would have been unthinkable even five years ago.

But preserving Korean culture is an uphill struggle. Anthropologist Jeffry Hester of Kansai Gaidai University in Osaka estimates that 80% of Japan’s ethnic Koreans who marry choose a non-Korean Japanese spouse; so they are rapidly being absorbed into mainstream society. Thousands more chose Japanese citizenship. Chongryun’s So sighs and says, “Generation after generation, second, third, fourth generation, cannot help being influenced by Japanese society.” Even some teachers at Chongryun schools — where speaking Japanese is banned in favor of Korean — admit that they speak Japanese when they get home.


Kim seeks ‘normal’ ties with Japan

Saturday, September 14th, 2002


North Korean leader Kim Jong-il – who is to meet Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi in Pyongyang on Tuesday – says he wants to establish diplomatic ties with Tokyo.

In a written interview with Japan’s Kyodo news agency, Mr Kim said he would be willing to visit Japan once relations had improved.

But he reiterated his government’s demand for an apology and compensation for Japan’s colonial rule of the Korean peninsula between 1910 and 1945.

This is among a number of issues that have soured relations between Tokyo and Pyongyang.

Japan, for its part, accuses North Korean agents of abducting 11 Japanese in the 1970s and 80s, and is still angry over Pyongyang’s launch of a missile over Japan in 1998.

‘Liquidate the past’

In the interview with Kyodo, Mr Kim said it was “the historic mission for the two countries’ politicians of today to normalise relations”.

But, he went on, “in order to liquidate the past, (Japan must) apologise sincerely by giving thorough consideration to all the sufferings and damages it inflicted on the Korean people”.

The issue of compensation, Mr Kim added, must also be “correctly resolved”.

President George W Bush has welcomed Mr Koizumi’s visit to North Korea, saying the United States has not given up on resuming talks with Pyongyang.

Mr Koizumi will be the first Japanese leader to visit North Korea – a country described by Mr Bush as part of an “axis of evil”, along with Iraq and Iran.