TOKYO (AFP) - A Japanese man has recently been detained in North Korea, a potential diplomatic dilemma as Tokyo pushes to hold a summit with Pyongyang, local media reported on Saturday (Aug 11).
It was not immediately clear when or why the unidentified man was held but he may be charged with spying, the Asahi Shimbun reported, quoting government sources.
"Securing the man's safety is the top priority but it is possible the North Korean side might make use of the case as a bargaining chip for its negotiations with Japan," a source close the Japanese government told the paper.
Further details, such as the purpose of the man's visit to North Korea, were not immediately available.
A foreign ministry official declined to confirm the news reports "due to the nature of such a case".
"But the government is taking action and gathering information," the official told AFP.
Tokyo has advised Japanese citizens against travel to North Korea as part of its economic sanctions on the country.
North Korea has a long history of arresting foreigners on spying charges and then using them as diplomatic pawns.
In 1999, a Japanese newspaper reporter in North Korea was detained for about two years on spying charges, Kyodo News reported.
Japan has largely maintained a hard line on Pyongyang - which fired multiple test missiles towards Japanese territory - and has long pushed for movement on citizens who were abducted decades ago by North Korean agents.
But reports suggest Tokyo is considering a summit soon between Kim and Abe in the wake of South Korea and Washington's recent diplomatic detente with Pyongyang. Japanese media have floated a possible meeting on the sidelines of an international forum in Russia's Vladivostok next month.
"Ultimately, I myself will have to directly face chairman Kim Jong Un and engage in dialogue and resolve the nuclear, missile and, above all, the all-important abduction issue, and then build new Japan-North Korea relations," Abe said Monday.
During historic talks with US President Donald Trump in Singapore in June, Kim reportedly said he was open to a meeting with Abe.