It has been four decades at least since dozens of Japanese citizens were abducted by North Korean state agents in Japan, yet the problem has yet to be resolved, anything bold and significant yet to be done by the government to get them back home. What can—and should—be done, immediately?
Kyoko Nakayama, the former Special Advisor to the Prime Minister for the North Korean abduction issues, sits down with Sankei Shimbun staff writers Makiko Takita and Takao Harakawa, to discuss the problems and the possibilities. Nakayama, who now leads the political party “Nihonno Kokoro (Japanese Heart),” points out that Japan’s approach has always been to work for the normalisation of relations with North Korea before it will bring up the abduction issue, instead of directly pushing, single-mindedly, for the return of the abductees. And that has led nowhere.
Following are excerpts.
In the middle of the night last July 28th, North Korea launched a multi-stage intercontinental ballistic missile. Even considering this event, I think the conditions have been created for taking a very strong stance on negotiations for the return of the abductees taken by North Korea. It is probable that greater effort in strengthened negotiations will be required.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe truly and sincerely wants to secure the return of the abductees. But, with efforts centered in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs [not much can be expected]. I do not mean to criticize everything that the Ministry is doing. They consider their task to be that of normalizing diplomatic relations.
Why do I think this? If you read the Japan-North Korea Pyongyang Declaration, you will understand. This was signed in 2002 by then-Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and Secretary Kim Jong-Il on the occasion of Koizumi’s visit to North Korea. Was the Declaration about rescuing the abductees? Not at all. It was basically the Japanese government saying that if the North Korean government admitted the abductions and apologized, Japan would cease to raise the issue of abductions prior to the Declaration. You can clearly read in the Declaration the intent of the Japanese government to limit the abduction issue and normalize relations.
In the Pyongyang Declaration the North Korean side explicitly stated that “it would further maintain the moratorium on missile launching in and after 2003.” This statement notwithstanding, it conducted a missile launch on July 5, 2006. Two months later, when Prime Minister Abe appointed me as an aide to deal with the abduction issue, the Declaration was effectively rendered null and void by a further missile launch. In consideration of this, the government created a task force charged with rescue of the abductees.
However, in May of 2014 the government concluded the Stockholm Agreement with North Korea building on the Pyongyang Declaration. Once again the Ministry of Foreign Affairs began negotiations to normalize diplomatic relations.
In the Stockholm Agreement the issues of [returning] remains and Japanese women married to Korean men were placed on the same level as the abduction issue. With respect to the abduction issue the Agreement stated, “A survey will be conducted and in the event any surviving abductees are found, there circumstances will be reported to the Japan side, and in consideration of their age there will be consideration directed at returning them to Japan.” This amounts to saying, “Even if some abductees are found, we are not returning them.” Restoration is necessary. It is more than a little odd that the text says “looking toward return” rather “return.”
From the Pyongyang Declaration that said the Japanese government would not ask for the rescue of the abductees to the Stockholm Agreement that continued that basic policy, negotiations with North Korea have been focused on the normalization of relations with North Korea. That’s what I see as the reality.
I myself spent three years going back and forth with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs while being responsible for the abductee issue. I was stopping the Ministry so that it won’t move in the direction of normalized relations without resolving the abduction problem. Schism within the government is one reason for the delay in rescuing the abductees.
There are people who say that the victims [of abduction] will come back after the normalization of relations. But because North Korea sees the abductees as captured prey, returning them to their country is not going to happen even if relations are normalized.
In March of this year I confirmed the government position by submitting a formal Diet member’s query to the government. The government response was, “The [abductee] issue is one of its highest priority matters. We are giving top priority to bringing about the return of all abductees at the earliest possible date.” This indicates that without the return of the victims there cannot be a normalization of relations.
I experienced what it is like to deal with the abduction issue as a minister of state. North Korea is a dictatorship. Your opponent is Kim Jong-un, chairman of the Worker’s Party of Korea, a position that lets him arbitrarily decide anything and everything. A mere minister of state is no match for such a person. It is my feeling that having direct negotiations [between Kim] and the Prime Minister would make things much easier. It is for that reason that the Prime Minister has been asking for the establishment of abductee rescue team directly answerable to him. If there are members of the general public who have know-how in this area, it would be fine to include them. In any event I would like to see a joint government-citizen effort.
In dealing with the abduction issue so far, I have always bumped up against the Constitution. The current Constitution sets out the rights of citizens, but the concept of the nation state is missing. Does the nation protect its citizens? Does it defend the national territory? There is nothing about these matters in the Constitution. It is not a Constitution for an independent country.
Do not make any stringent demands on foreign countries, especially those neighboring Japan. This has been the foreign policy of Japan in the postwar period. Do not put forward your own arguments. Seek the understanding of the other country. Act on belief in the other country. This is just what it says in the preface to the Constitution.
Bureaucrats act in accord with the Constitution. That means the only thing they can say is, “If you have some Japanese victims, we would be thankful for your favorable consideration.” I think that it is this diplomatic policy that has created the situation where we cannot solve the abductee problem.
Megumi Yokota, who was abducted at age 13 will turn 53 this year. The parents of the abductees are well along in years. There have been a series of [age-related] accidents involving families of the specially designated missing persons who might have been abducted to North Korea. There is not much time left.
(Click here to read the original article in Japanese.)
Read Japan Forward’s special coverage of the abduction issue.