Mongolia and Japan fought twice during the WW2. The first series of battles culminated in the Khalkhiin Gol War of 1939. The second part occurred in 1945 during the Manchuria Offensive.
At the end of 1945, Mongolia brought in more than 12,000 Japanese POWs from Manchuria. They were predominantly used in construction. More than 1600 POWs died in the two years they were interned here.
One of the first government contacts between Japan and Mongolia occurred in 1962, when the government officials came to visit and pay respect to the dead POWs. These meetings culminated in the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1972.
One of the stumbling blocks in establishment of diplomatic relations was the insistence by the Mongolian Government to receive war reparations from Japan. The final agreed payment was done as a development aid through UNIDO. The Government of Japan helped build a cashmere factory GOBI in Mongolia.
Mongolia and Japan have a long history of protracted and difficult negotiations. I presume Mongolia knows a thing or two to teach North Koreans on how to negotiate with the Japanese.
Now back to the question. The reason Japan asks Mongolia to help with the abduction cases, is because they don’t have any major progress with North Korea since 2004.
In 2002, there was a major breakthrough in the relations between Japan and North Korea. North Korea admitted abduction of 14 Japanese citizens. Japan maintains that 17 of its citizens were abducted. Unfortunately due to the mistrust from both sides, the negotiations didn’t proceed. It was a major loss for both sides. If Japan established diplomatic relations with NK the rest of the countries could have followed.
The issue of abduction is highly politicised in Japan. Because of this, Japan cannot make further steps unless the issue is settled. North Korea, however, maintains that the issue is closed.
This is where Mongolia comes in. Mongolia has very good relations with North Korea. Our President recently went for an official visit to North Korea and made a lecture on democracy. Until recently we had thousands of North Koreans working in Mongolia. So because of our close cooperation with NK, our government acts as a mediator between the two countries. Mongolia serves as a neutral ground for periodic meetings that are conducted away from news and media.
pic: Japanese POWs are working as a construction labor in Ulaanbaatar.