Loyal Koreans living in Japan hope summit will bring peace

23 PHOTOS
Japan's Koreans hope for peace after summit
See Gallery
Japan's Koreans hope for peace after summit
High school students from a dance club at Kanagawa Korean Middle and High School take a selfie after their traditional dance performance at a local international day event to promote a multicultural society in Yokohama, Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan,May 20, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon 
Middle school students from a dance club are silhouetted as they practice at Kanagawa Korean Middle and High School in Yokohama, Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan, June 1, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon 
Students study in a library at Korea University in Kodaira, west of Tokyo, June 2, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon 
A student wearing traditional Korean clothes and the school uniform (R) walks towards Korea University in Kodaira, west of Tokyo, June 2, 2018. The slogan on the building reads, 'The great leader Kim Il-sung, hurrah.'" REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon 
Paeng Yu Na, a high school student at Kanagawa Korean Middle and High School poses for a photograph in her classroom in Yokohama, Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan, June 1, 2018. She is dressed in traditional Korean clothes, the uniform at the school. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon 
A postcard featuring the flag of North Korea is displayed on the desk of Ryom Mun Son at Korea University in Kodaira, west of Tokyo, June 2, 2018. Ryom Mun Song, an associate Professor of Korea University and ethnic Korean in Japan, purchased the postcard when he visited the headquarters of the United Nations. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon 
Ryom Mun Song, an associate Professor of Korea University and ethnic Korean in Japan, poses in front of a display showing articles and photographs reporting on the inter-Korean summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in at Korea University in Kodaira, west of Tokyo, June 2, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon 
Portraits of former North Korean leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il are seen above a bookshelf displaying books and magazines published in North Korea (R) and Japan (L) at a library of Korea University in Kodaira, west of Tokyo, June 2, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon 
Hong Ryong Su, an ethic Korean in Japan, holds Korean dictionaries which he used for language study at his house in Tokyo, Japan, June 3, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon 
High school students from a dance club at Kanagawa Korean Middle and High School run up stairs after their traditional dance performance at a local international day event to promote a multicultural society in Yokohama, Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan, May 20, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon 
Baek Chong Won, 95, an ethnic North Korean living in Japan, wears the badges of former North Korean leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il on his shirt, as he is helped by his daughter (the hand in the picture) while he prepares to pose for a photograph at his house in Tokyo, Japan, May 27, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon 
A North Korean passport for a family member of Baek Chong Won, 95, an ethnic North Korean living in Japan, is placed on a table at Baek's house in Tokyo, Japan, May 27, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon
Hong Ryong Su, an ethic Korean in Japan, poses with a face cut-out which North Korea's cheerleaders used in the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics, at his house in Tokyo Japan, June 3, 2018. Hong said he downloaded the image from the internet and made the cut-out himself after seeing it broadcast from the Olympic Games. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon 
Hong Ryong Su, an ethic Korean in Japan, has a dinner with his ethnic Korean wife and an ethnic Korean friend who works for the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan (Chongryon), at his house in Tokyo, Japan, June 3, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon 
Baek Chong Won, 95, an ethnic North Korean living in Japan, looks at a photograph featuring former North Korean leader Kim Il Sung which was taken decades ago when he visited North Korea, through a magnifying glass at his house in Tokyo, Japan, May 27, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon 
Baek Chong Won, 95, an ethnic North Korean living in Japan, drinks water during his interview with Reuters at his house in Tokyo, Japan, May 27, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon 
High school students from a dance club at Kanagawa Korean Middle and High School stand in the lobby after their traditional dance performance at a local international day event to promote a multicultural society in Yokohama, Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan, May 20, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon 
A high school student from Kanagawa Korean Middle and High School sweeps on the corridor where photos about the summits between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (L), the meeting between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (top in R), the meeting between U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo meets with North Korea's envoy Kim Yong Chol, are displayed on a board in the school in Yokohama, Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan, June 1, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon 
High school students from a dance club at Kanagawa Korean Middle and High School perform a traditional dance at a local international day event to promote a multicultural society in Yokohama, Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan, May 20, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon 
A high school student from Kanagawa Korean Middle and High School, dressed in traditional Korean clothes, which is the school uniform, attends a class in Yokohama, Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan, June 1, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon 
A teacher wearing traditional Korean clothes teaches English to her students at Kanagawa Korean Middle and High School in Yokohama, Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan, June 1, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon 
Elementary school students practice a programme for the upcoming sports day at Kanagawa Korean school in Yokohama, Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan, June 1, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon 
Middle school students from a dance club practice at Kanagawa Korean Middle and High School in Yokohama, Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan, June 1, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon 
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

TOKYO, June 6 (Reuters) - Ethnic Koreans in Japan loyal to Pyongyang hope next week's historic U.S.-North Korea summit will help bring reconciliation on the Korean peninsula and clarify their own murky legal status.

Their optimism has built following April's upbeat summit of the leaders of North and South Korea and ahead of next Tuesday's meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore.

"I thought reunification was something in the distant future, especially with all the sanctions" on the North, said 17-year-old Paeng Yu Na, who attends one of about 60 schools across Japan affiliated with the North.

"But it now feels so much closer," said Paeng, who wears traditional Korean dress along with her classmates, although not outside the school walls to avoid attacks from Japanese right-wing nationalists.

Paeng is one of the "zainichi" minority, Japan's largest such ethnic group, descended from Koreans who moved or were brought to the country during Tokyo's colonial rule of the Korean peninsula from 1910 to 1945.

Over the years, many ethnic Koreans have opted for Japanese citizenship, while others have taken South Korean nationality, totalling about 450,000.

But a smaller community of about 30,000 have remained loyal to Pyongyang, stuck in a legal gray zone with permanent residency but no legal nationality, as the countries lack diplomatic ties.

Born and raised in Japan, most differ little from Japanese people on the surface, speaking the language fluently and often marrying Japanese. But many have faced discrimination, with the ebb and flow of international politics shadowing their lives.

Job opportunities for pro-Pyongyang Koreans were long limited to firms run by members of their community, including nightclubs, barbecue restaurants and pachinko pinball parlors.

Some 90,000 in fact opted to leave for North Korea between 1959 and 1984, lured by the slogan "Let's go back to the fatherland!" Those numbers plunged in the 1980s as tales of the North's poverty spread.

Others supported the North with steady cash remittances and by carrying goods on a ferry that made occasional trips between the two nations until tightening sanctions banned its port calls.

Each new round of North Korean nuclear tests brought threats and abuse. Students like Paeng, once a not unfamiliar sight on Tokyo streets in their long, traditional uniforms, became particular targets.

Hong Ryong Su, 49, a third-generation "zainichi," hopes the summit will yield not only a treaty ending the 1950s Korean War, which culminated in a truce that left both sides technically at war, but also improve conditions for the community.

"Living in Japan, we see a new path opening that will also normalize relations between North Korea and Japan," Hong said over a meal of kimchi and stir-fried beef at his home in an industrial suburb of Tokyo.

"We can't think of that starting without the first (summit) happening, so we'll be watching developments with bated breath," said Hong, adding that he stood ready to toast any successful outcome.

It is unlikely that just one meeting will achieve a major breakthrough, however, said Ryom Mun Song, a professor of international relations at Korea University, which has ties to Pyongyang but is not recognized by Japan.

"It will be difficult if each side just presents conditions the other side cannot accept," said Ryom, another third-generation ethnic Korean.

"However, if both sides keep in sight the goal (of complete nuclear disarmament), and through confidence-building measures, address it step-by-step with further meetings, then I think we can expect great results."

Suggestions for North Korea to follow Libya in scrapping its nuclear weapons irked many North Koreans in Japan, who drew an unfavorable parallel with subsequent events.

"Didn't the United States say we should take the Libyan approach? But wasn't Libya ruined by this approach?" asked 95-year-old Baek Chong Won.

Last month, North Korea criticized U.S. national security adviser John Bolton, who had urged it to give up its nuclear arsenal in a deal that would mirror Libya's abandonment of its program for weapons of mass destruction.

But Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi was deposed and killed by NATO-backed militants several years later.

"How can we easily give up our nuclear weapons that North Korea developed when it had nothing to eat?" asked Baek, whose lapel pin portrayed the last two generations of North Korea's leaders, forebears of its current ruler. (Reporting and writing by Kwiyeon Ha, additional reporting by Elaine Lies; Editing by Olivier Fabre, Malcolm Foster and Clarence Fernandez)

Read Full Story