TOKYO, Dec. 11 (UPI) -- Japan and North Korea secretly met in China several times to discuss Japanese nationals who were abducted in the 70s and 80s from coastal areas of Japan, according to a government source in Tokyo.
The meetings held in November consisted of at least two rounds of talks in China, and the two sides met at least once in Shanghai, Kyodo News reported Friday.
According to the source, Japan had requested North Korea report "promptly and honestly" on Pyongyang's most recent investigations. North Korea said at the meetings it had unearthed a burial site containing Japanese remains dating from World War II, but did not provide more specific information.
North Korea made similar claims in September, when it told Japan it needed $83 million for the exchange of remains of Japan's war dead.
The disclosure on Friday indicated the two countries are still pursuing negotiations, after formal talks were suspended and North Korea had filed a protest with Japan and blamed Tokyo for bringing what it said is a bilateral issue to the United Nations.
Japan has refused to believe North Korea's claims that it cannot locate the whereabouts of some of the abductees on Tokyo's list, and negotiations have veered off course after some progress was made until 2014, when Pyongyang reneged on its promise to provide a preliminary report on the abductees.
In 2002, former North Korean leader Kim Jong Il had said of the 17 Japanese abductees officially recognized by Tokyo, five are alive in North Korea, eight have died and the remaining four were never taken to North Korea. A dozen abductees are officially recognized by Tokyo, but Pyongyang has said none are alive, eight have died and four never entered the country.
Voice of America reported Friday Tokyo publicly acknowledged that it is pursuing bilateral contact with North Korea.
Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said Japan continues to request reports from Pyongyang, and Katsunobu Kato, Japan's recently appointed representative on the North Korea abductions issue, said Tokyo is at this point not considering new sanctions against Pyongyang.
Japan fears sanctions would sever the path of dialogue with North Korea.