The mayor of the Japanese port city of Sakaiminato said Friday that his brief visit to North Korea was aimed at exploring the potential of a North Korean port as a trading channel for China.
Sakaiminato Mayor Katsuji Nakamura made a day trip to North Korea from China on Thursday to take a look at the facilities of Rajin port in the Rason special economic zone. He was accompanied by officials from Hunchun in the Chinese province of Jilin that borders North Korea.
The Chinese city, which uses Rajin for trade, proposed the tour.
Speaking to reporters at city hall after returning to Japan, Nakamura said the purpose of the trip "was for an inspection to explore the possibility (for the port) to become a trading base for China in the future." He added that he is not considering at all building a new trade route linking Sakaiminato to China at this moment.
He dismissed concern in some quarters that it was insensitive for a municipal government official to travel to North Korea when the thorny abduction issue has not been fully resolved between Tokyo and Pyongyang.
"I don't think it had a major impact on Japan-North Korea consultations (on the kidnapping issue)," he said of his day trip. "I would have to humbly acknowledge criticism, if there is any."
Nakamura is believed to be the first local government head to travel to North Korea since Japan lifted its restrictions on travel between the two countries in July in return for North Korea's opening of a fresh investigation into the fate of Japanese citizens it abducted in the 1970s and 1980s.
Pyongyang is thought to be raising hope that Rajin port will be a major channel for goods on trade routes on the Sea of Japan and has undertaken major refurbishments of the port facilities by drawing Russian capital.
Sakaiminato used to be a port for trading secondhand autos and seafood with North Korea. The Japanese government banned North Korean-registered ships from entering the port after Pyongyang conducted its first nuclear test in 2006.