The 1980s was a period when North Korea’s military actions, such as the Rangoon bombing and the bombing of Korean Air Flight 858, drew focus away from Japan-North Korea relations. In terms of North Korea’s foreign policy, it is often contrasted with South Korea’s “Nordpolitik,” which was aimed at improving relations with China and the Soviet Union ahead of the 1988 Seoul Olympics.
However, during this period, North Korea did not spare any effort to improve relations with Western countries such as Japan, the United States, or South Korea. Among them, the approach to Japan was remarkable. In 1984, North Korea re-signed a fishing agreement with Japan that had been neglected for two years. In 1985, active personnel exchanges between Japan and North Korea took place, and there were significant moves to improve relations at the political level.
North Korea clearly expressed its intention to build political relations, including exchanges with the Liberal Democratic Party and the Japanese government, and tried to address resolvable issues. While the situation in Northeast Asia was exhibiting increasing fluidity, such as China’s reforms, opening-up policies and efforts to improve China-South Korea relations, North Korea had tried to develop not only economic but also political relations with Japan.
On the other hand, North Korea expressed its negative attitude regarding the issue of establishing mutual trade offices, fearing that it would lead to cross-approval. It is presumed that this was largely due to concerns over the rapid development of China-South Korea relations. North Korea was reluctant to enter into a South Korea-led cross-approval initiative aimed at linking Japan-North Korea relations with China-South Korea relations, but tried hard to advance bilateral relations by increasing contacts with Japan’s government.
It is no exaggeration to say that North Korea, which had been closely watching South Korea expand its exchanges with socialist countries such as China and the Soviet Union, was trying its own “Southern Policy”. North Korea’s efforts to build relations with the Japanese government and the Liberal Democratic Party in response to South Korea’s improved relations with communist countries such as China in the mid-1980s were maintained amid changes in the strategic environment caused by easing U.S.-Soviet tensions. It led to Kanemaru’s visit to North Korea in 1990 and negotiations to normalize diplomatic relations between Japan and North Korea in 1991.