A senior North Korean diplomat on Saturday arrived in Beijing for the country's first formal meeting in more than a year with Japan.
Song Il Ho, North Korea's ambassador for talks to normalize relations with Japan, will attend the two-day meeting from Sunday in the Chinese capital, during which the issue of Pyongyang's past abductions of Japanese nationals and its launch earlier this week of two medium-range ballistic missiles into the sea will most likely top the agenda.
The first governmental meeting since November 2011 will take place after diplomats from Tokyo and Pyongyang held informal talks last week in the northeastern Chinese city of Shenyang.
For Japan, the issue of its nationals North Korean agents abducted in the 1970s and 1980s remains a major obstacle to normalizing bilateral relations with the country, now led by Kim Jong Un, who is presumed to be 31 years old.
During the upcoming meeting, Japan, which will be represented by Junichi Ihara, head of the Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau at the Foreign Ministry, will demand North Korea reinvestigate the abduction issue, according to government sources.
Japan plans to tell North Korea that it is ready to consider lifting sanctions if Pyongyang agrees to reexamine the issue, the sources said.
But North Korea, which has never lived up to its promise to do so made in 2008, is unlikely to easily budge on the issue, or on its nuclear and missile development programs.
Ryu Song Il, chief of the Japanese affairs section at the North Korean Foreign Ministry, reiterated his country's stance that the abduction issue has already been settled when he met the press at Shenyang airport last weekend after holding the informal talks.
North Korea admitted in 2002 to having abducted 13 Japanese nationals. Five of them were repatriated to Japan but North Korea has claimed the remaining eight are dead.
Japan, which has 17 people on its official list of abduction victims, has accused North Korea of not providing credible evidence about the whereabouts of the eight and enough information on other cases.
During the previous meeting in Mongolia, also at a director-general level, Japan and North Korea agreed to hold another round of similar talks in December 2012 in Beijing.
But Japan postponed the talks due to North Korea's move to launch an "earth observation satellite," which was seen by other countries as a covert test of long-range missile technology in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions.