Japan, north korea and the abduction issue

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Japan, north korea and the abduction issue

  1. 1. Japan, North Korea and the Abduction Issue By Eric Johnston Deputy Editor The Japan Times Kyoto Stanford Center March 6th , 2006
  2. 2. ``All Politics is Local’’ September 2002 Summit: Kim admits to Koizumi that North Korea kidnapped Japanese nationals during the 1970s and 1980s, and that five are still alive October 2002: The five abductees are released from North Korea and return to Japan after nearly a quarter century. May 2004: Koizumi travels to North Korea and returns with the children of the five abductees, and Charles Robert Jenkins, an American army sergeant who deserted to North Korea in 1965.
  3. 3. Pre-September 2002 Official Views “International problems are best left the experts at the Foreign Ministry, which is full of hard-working, honest professionals.” “The abduction issue was based more on emotion than factual evidence.” “There were lots of problems between Japan and North Korea far more serious than the abduction issue. Shouldn’t we be concentrating on those?” “Even if North Korea did kidnap Japanese, who, besides the families, cares?”
  4. 4. Post September 2002 Public Views North Korea is evil. The Japanese people were betrayed all these years by North Korea. The Japanese people were betrayed all of these years by their own government, especially the Foreign Ministry. The Japanese people were betrayed all of these years by a media that mocked the victims’ families. Japan, having been victimized by North Korea, should make every effort to find out what happened to the other abductees.
  5. 5. Chronology of Main Events January 7th , 1980 – small story on the front page of the Sankei Shimbun about three young couples who disappeared in the summer of 1978 from the beaches of Fukui, Niigata, and Kagoshima Prefectures. Photos of four the six –Yasushi Chimura, Fukie Hamamoto, Rumiko Matsumoto, and Shuichi Ichikawa are shown. Story also mentions an attempted kidnapping in neighboring Toyama Prefecture. Police believe that there is a high probability that the Toyama kidnapping attempt was carried out by ``foreign agents’’, based on the evidence recovered, and wonder if there is a connection with the other six disappearances. Story is almost immediately dismissed as sheer speculation.
  6. 6. Why Did Police Speculate That Foreign Agents Might Be Involved? The couples had no obvious reason to disappear. No debts, no broken relationships, not in trouble with the law. For years, fishermen and villagers in Fukui and Niigata had reported to local police that strange ships and strange men were sometimes seen near the beaches. North Korean military uniforms were sometimes found washed up on shore. There was a belief these strange men were North Korean spies infiltrating Japan.
  7. 7. The Evidence Mounts 1985: A North Korean agent carrying a fake passport with the name ``Tadaaki Hara’’ is arrested in Japan. The real Hara had disappeared from a beach in Miyazaki Prefecture, in Kyushu, in 1980.
  8. 8. 1988 A North Korean agent named Kim Hyong-Hee is arrested for blowing up a Korean Airlines jet in 1987. She is caught with a Japanese passport, and tells South Korean police that she learned Japanese in North Korea from a Japanese national whose description matches that of Yaeko Taguchi, who disappeared from the same beach as Tadaaki Hara, but in 1978.
  9. 9. March 26th , 1988 ``There is sufficient reason to believe that the couples who disappeared in 1978 have been kidnapped to North Korea,’’ Senior ruling party Diet member Seiroku Kajiyama, head of a government committee investigating the possibility of abductions to North Korea
  10. 10. September 1988 In Sapporo, the family of Jun Ishioka, who disappeared from Madrid in 1980, receives a letter from Jun that was mailed from Poland after he slipped it to a Polish visitor in Pyongnang. In the letter, Jun says he is now living in North Korea with other Japanese, including Keiko Arimoto from Kobe, who went missing in Europe in 1983. The Arimoto family is contacted by the Ishioka family but the letter is not made public out of fears for Jun’s safety.
  11. 11. The Official Reaction is? NOTHING ``Not Enough Proof’’ ``Maybe they went willingly’’
  12. 12. BUT BEHIND THE SCENES. . . Sept. 1990: Liberal Democratic Party politicians with ties to pro-North Korean groups in Japan (Chosen Soren, etc.) and Socialist Party politicians make an unprecedented visit to North Korea. Why? Gold bars and Sand.
  13. 13. GOLD BARS Immediately following the September 1990 trip, allegations are made that the Japanese politicians received 5 billion yen in payoffs from Chosen Soren. In June 1993, police would raid the home of the senior LDP official who led the delegation and find 600 million yen in gold bars hidden underneath his floor. It is said the gold came from North Korea.
  14. 14. AND WHAT DID JAPAN WANT IN RETURN FROM NORTH KOREA? During the trip to North Korea in September 1990, while the senior Japanese politicians were wined and dined by Kim Il Song and Kim Jong Il, a helicopter full of Japanese and North Koreans flew over the surrounding countryside, where the Japanese admired. . .the riverbed sand. Japan was then in the middle of it’s bubble economy and building new roads, bridges, dams, and airports. But Japanese sand had a high percent of salt, very bad for making concrete. North Korean riverband sand has a much lower salt content.
  15. 15. Frustrating Times September 1990 trip failed to lead to much of anything, let alone sand for Japan. MAY 1993: North Korea fires a medium-range missile over Japan. Tensions rise. SPRING 1994, talk of war with North Korea grows. JULY 1994, Kim Il Song dies. East Asia could become very unstable. Bigger worries than abduction issue.
  16. 16. MARCH 1995 BACK TO PYONGANG: A second delegation of Japanese officials heads to North Korea to talk about normalization of relations. By now, food shortages are acute. North Korea: ``Rice aid for normalization talks’’ By the end of 1995, Japan has agreed to send 500,000 tons of surplus rice.
  17. 17. Meanwhile. . . 1994: An Myon Jin, a North Korean spy, defects to South Korea. MAY 1995: An tells a Japanese TV producer that Japanese nationals were working as language teachers at his spy school. An is shown a photo of Shuichi Ichikawa, one of six Japanese who, back in 1980, the Sankei newspaper hinted were kidnapped. He says he saw Ichikawa in North Korea. Then, he reveals that he saw somebody else. Megumi Yokota.
  18. 18. The Strange Case of Megumi Yokota NOVEMBER 15th , 1977, early evening, 13 year old Megumi Yokota disappears from Niigata. No witnesses, but neighbors report a strange car seen driving around that afternoon. Just after she was last seen, a woman’s scream is heard on the beach, and an explosion. Several days later, National Police Agency says it intercepted coded radio messages from a North Korean vessel in international waters near Niigata. The messages had been sent just before and on November 15th . No trace of Megumi is ever found.
  19. 19. The Strange Case of Megumi YokotaLATE 1980s: An, while a student at the Kim Jong Il Academy, North Korea’s top spy school, attends an outdoor rally. A older classmate points to a Japanese woman in her mid-20s, and tells An he kidnapped her when she was a teenager. OCTOBER 1996: The Japanese TV producer who interviewed An a couple of years previously writes an article for an obscure journal in which he repeats An’s story of the kidnapped woman. DECEMBER 1996: At a seminar in Niigata, a police officer attending a lecture by the journal’s publisher recognizes the description of the woman An saw as that of Megumi Yokota.
  20. 20. FINALLY, THE MEDIA DAM BREAKS FEBRUARY 1997: Following negotiations with police, the journal’s publisher, and concerned Diet members, Mr.& Mrs. Yokota agree to release the name of their daughter and a photo, with a declaration they believe she was kidnapped to North Korea. The story is front-page news, and finally, the abduction issue is on the political and media radar as never before.
  21. 21. CHANGES IN JAPAN New generation of politicians is conservative and often right-wing. ``Japan’s neoconservatives’’. Favor tough line on North Korea, unapologetic for Japan’s war crimes, and aiming to rewrite history. Megumi Yokota is the perfect poster child, and the abduction issue is the perfect straw man, for many of the neoconservatives’ complaints about Japan.
  22. 22. Japan’s Neocons WHO THEY ARE Ruling and major opposition party men and women in their late 40s and 50s, born after World War II. Some are former leftists. LDP: Shinzo Abe Katsumei Hirasawa Yuriko Koike DPJ: Shingo Nishimura WHAT THEY SAY ``Megumi Yokota and other abductees were kidnapped by an evil North Korea. When the families tried to push the government to take a tough stance towards North Korea, they were betrayed by `traitors’ in the Foreign Ministry, the liberal media, and certain politicians, who refused to take them seriously.’’
  23. 23. 1997– The Pivotal Year JANUARY: DPJ’s Shingo Nishimura submits a series of detailed questions to the Diet on the case of Megumi Yokota. MARCH: Two abduction issue-related organizations are formed. The first consists of families of those who strongly believe their relatives were kidnapped by North Korea. The second is the National Association for the Rescue of Japanese Kidnapped to North Korea, a nationwide group of supporters. AUGUST: At an informal series of talks in Beijing between North Korea and Japan, North Korea agrees to look for those Japanese who might be ``missing’’.
  24. 24. 1999: Progress and Setbacks March 1999: After nearly two years of lobbying, the families of the abductees get a meeting with the Prime Minister, who offers them tea and sympathy. Not long afterwards, a North Korean spy ship is caught in Japanese waters and fired upon. Public anger towards North Korea rises, but some politicians remain committed to helping out North Korea, especially those with financial ties to pro- North Korean groups and businesses in Japan.
  25. 25. 2000: Good News, and Bad March: The government approves food aid for North Korea, over the protests of the families and their supporters. April: The new Prime Minister tells families: ``No normalization of ties with North Korea until they agree to discuss abduction issue. September: Japan agrees to send an extra half million tons of food aid, despite a U.N. report that only 200,000 tons is needed. Shady financial deals between Japanese rice growers and certain politicians is alleged. Families and their supporters stage massive protests against the shipments.
  26. 26. THE AGE OF BUSH AND KOIZUMI In 2001, George W. Bush and Junichiro Koizumi become U.S. President and Prime Minister. Both take a hard line towards North Korea. Senior Bush Administration officials express sympathy for the abduction issue. Japan’s Foreign Ministry is rocked by a series of scandals and loses power and prestige. North Korea-friendly politicians see their influence wane.
  27. 27. PROOF(?) AT LAST: Towards the 2002 Summit AUGUST 2001: South Korean media reports indicate that eight of the abductees are alive and living together in Pyongang. Report says one of the eight was kidnapped while a teenager. AUTUMN 2001: The wife of a Japanese man who had hijacked a plane to North Korea in 1970 returns to Japan where, as agreed, she is taken into custody. MARCH 2002: Testifying at this woman’s trial, Megumi Yao, who herself returned to Japan from North Korea in the 1980s after marrying one of the Japanese hijackers, says she kidnapped Keiko Arimoto. Her testimony is front page news, and the last of the doubts about North Korea abducting Japanese is silenced.
  28. 28. PROOF(?) AT LAST: Towards the 2002 Summit By the spring of 2002, the abduction issue was a serious political issue in Japan, and both North Korea and Japan recognized that a summit was needed. Plans began for a visit to North Korea by Koizumi later that year. LATE AUGUST 2002: The U.S. Deputy Secretary of State, who has heard about the summit plans, tells Japan that the U.S. has credible evidence of North Korean nuclear weapons program. U.S. worries that a summit with Kim on abduction issue will make it impossible to condemn North Korea on nuclear weapons. But. . .
  29. 29. AUGUST 27th : PRIME MINISTER KOIZUMI ANNOUNCES HE WILL TRAVEL TO PYONGANG IN SEPTEMBER TO MEET KIM JONG IL. ``The main purpose of the visit is to discuss the abduction issue.’’
  30. 30. AFTERMATH The abduction issue is now the number one issue for Japan’s relations with North Korea. No politician in any party can afford to ignore it. The Foreign Ministry has been largely purged of bureaucrats whom the families and their supporters believed hindered their cause. The media treats the families and their support groups with far greater respect. The abduction issue is on the radar of the U.S. Congress passed a resolution last July expressing support for the abduction issue, a direct result of intense lobbying in the U.S. by the families and their supporters.
  31. 31. AGENDA OF SUPPORTERS The return of Megumi Yokota, whom they believe is still alive. North Korea says she’s dead. The return of eight other Japanese whom North Korea says it kidnapped. North Korea claims that they all died. An investigation into the disappearances of up to 150 Japanese who may have been kidnapped to North Korea.
  32. 32. AGENDA OF SUPPORTERS Economic sanctions on North Korea until it releases all Japanese who were ``kidnapped.’’ The abduction issue included in school textbooks as an example of human rights’ abuses by North Korea. Police investigations into Chosen Soren and its role in the abduction issue.
  33. 33. , FINALLY, THE SUPPORTERS HAVE A WHOLE RANGE OF NON-ABDUCTION RELATED POLITCAL AND SOCIAL CHANGES THEY WISH TO PUSH. MOST OF THESE VIEWS ARE RIGHT- WING AND HAVE TO DO WITH HISTORICAL REVISIONISM AND THE DENIAL OF JAPAN’S PAST.
  34. 34. Unanswered Questions Why was evidence that North Korea was involved in the abductions, evidence that mounted throughout the 1980s, virtually ignored by the central government? Why was Seiroku Kajiyama’s claim in 1988 that some Japanese had probably been kidnapped not followed up with further investigations? Why did certain politicians in the Japanese political and bureaucratic worlds stifle the families’ attempts to find out what happened? What was the role of Chosen Soren? Why has there STILL been no official Diet investigation into the history of the abduction issue, and which Japanese leaders knew what and when?
  35. 35. In Conclusion. . . . The abduction issue was supported and pushed by a group of ordinary Japanese citizens who demanded, much to the anger and irritation of the Foreign Ministry, certain media, and the Diet, that the issue be forced on North Korea. The abduction issue has convinced large numbers of ordinary Japanese that, if they can organize an effective grassroots campaign at the local level, they can play a direct role in the nation’s foreign policy, a realm that has traditionally not been what one might consider local politics. But, as the abduction issue has shown, all politics is local.
  36. 36. AND FINALLY . . . . Those who wish to learn more about the abduction issue and its affect on Japanese politics can access my report for the Japan Policy Research Institute at: www.jpri.org/publications/workingpapers/wp101.html
  37. 37. Questions? However. . . I am very sorry, but The Japan Times has no paid or unpaid internships available. Nor are we currently commissioning freelance articles from new writers. If you wish to write for an English language publication in Japan, please contact either Kyoto Journal or Kansai Time Out. You might also consider contacting Japanzine.

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