North Korea chose the moment of the U.S.-Japan summit meeting to launch intermediate-range ballistic missiles into the Sea of Japan, and soon after assassinated Kim Jong-nam, the elder half-brother of Korean Workers’ Party chairman Kim Jong-un. Both instances are grim reminders of the violent and unpredictable nature of the government across the Sea of Japan.
But beyond these recent shocks a question continues to lurk in the background—How long will the abductees taken by North Korea be kept in that country? Every method must be deployed in order to rescue every abductee with all possible speed.
The joint statement issued by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and President Donald Trump contained the following sentence: “The two leaders affirmed the importance of an early resolution of the abductions issue.” This is the first time such a phrase has appeared in a document jointly prepared by the leaders of both countries. Let us consider this a first step towards the resolution of the abduction issue.
At the joint press conference following the summit meeting, Abe said, “The President and I are in complete agreement on the importance of resolving the abduction issue” but it is disappointing that Trump did not mention the abduction issue in his own remarks.
Abe was able to build a close relationship with Trump during the summit meeting. We hope Abe will aggressively follow up on the issue henceforth by continuing to broach the subject with his American counterpart. Abe should emphasize that the United States and Japan must fight side by side in order to finally resolve the issue, that there can be no future for North Korea without a resolution.
In February of last year, North Korea unilaterally announced that it would be disbanding the special investigation committee which had promised to conduct a reinvestigation into the fate of the abductees. Since then, there have been absolutely no discernible developments in the abduction issue.
North Korea said that it was disbanding the committee as a protest measure against Japan’s strengthened sanctions against the North following its nuclear tests and missile launches. But the abductions are clearly a crime, kidnappings orchestrated by the leader of a country. When it comes to the abduction issue, there could never have been anything to negotiate.
The United States, too, is a victim of North Korea’s crimes. In 2004, an American university student from Utah named David Sneddon went missing in China’s Yunnan Province and it later came to light that Sneddon had been abducted by North Korean agents. In September 2016, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution calling on the U.S. government to open an official investigation into the Sneddon case. David Sneddon is the reason why the United State must join Japan in its fight to bring home all abductees.
At an emergency press conference convened after the North Korean missile launches, Trump said that the United States always stood by Japan 100 percent. This pledge should be expected to apply to the abduction issue as well. Japan’s role is now extremely important: Japan must seek an even stronger announcement from Trump focused directly on the abduction issue.
A group of family members of the abductees met with then-president George W. Bush in Washington, DC, in 2006, and again with then-president Barack Obama in Tokyo in 2014, entreating both men to cooperate in resolving the abduction issue. We hope that Trump will also share our anger that the abductees have not yet been brought home.