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Abducted: The Japanese Kidnapped by North Korea

North Korea's Abductions of Japanese: Victims' Families Hope for Breathrough

At a press conference amid North Korean signals and buildup for the Japan-US Summit, Takuya Yokota discusses hopes for bringing home the abductions victims.



Takuya Yokota, the Representative of the Association of Families of Victims Kidnapped by North Korea (AFVKN), at the FCCJ on April 5. (© JAPAN Forward by Daniel Manning)

On April 5, Takuya Yokota, representing the Association of Families of Victims Kidnapped by North Korea (Family Association, or AFVKN), spoke at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan (FCCJ). Yokota is the brother of Megumi Yokota, who was kidnapped by North Korea 46 years ago when she was 13. Emphasizing the Association's new strategy, he called for renewed efforts to ensure the repatriation of Japanese abduction victims from North Korea. As Prime Minister Fumio Kishida prepares for his upcoming United States visit, families of abductees anticipate progress on the longstanding abductions issue.

In a significant policy shift, the Association recently announced a conditional stance on humanitarian aid to North Korea. It will not oppose aid, provided Pyongyang repatriates all abductees within the remaining aging parents' lifetimes. 

The Association conveyed this compassionate yet firm stance to Prime Minister Kishida on March 4. Their new position highlights their focused commitment to reuniting abductee families. Yokota urged concrete actions towards this end. "It is the responsibility of the Japanese state to resolve the case of abduction of Japanese citizens," he declared.

Amid discussions of international diplomacy and potential summits, Yokota stressed the critical role of global awareness and cooperation in resolving the issue. He also addressed queries concerning recent remarks from North Korean officials, clarifying the AFVKN's position. Furthermore, he reiterated the need for focused negotiations free from the complexities of other diplomatic concerns.

A picture of abduction victim Megumi Yokota is in the background as her mother, Sakie Yokota answer's the media's questions.

Expectations for the Japan-US Summit

"The upcoming US-Japan summit is of paramount importance," Yokota emphasized. "Especially considering our history of meetings with US presidents dating back to 2006." He pointed out that they had encounters with Presidents George W Bush, Donald Trump, and Joe Biden

"Irrespective of political affiliation," he continued, "the US consistently recognizes the abduction issue as a fundamental human rights violation. Washington has pledged to address it accordingly." Yokota emphasized the Family Association's unchanged stance and earnestly hoped the next US president would uphold it.

"During Kishida's visit," Yokota shared, "we anticipate both leaders will reaffirm their commitment to resolving this issue collaboratively." He further explained, "Concrete plans for our visit to the US are pending. However, both our association and the Diet caucus are actively pursuing a resolution to the abduction issue." 

Despite the timing vis-à-vis the US elections, Yokota emphasized the Family Association's determination: "We aim to engage with members of Congress, the Senate, and relevant think tanks." Their goal, he says, is to "discuss potential strategies for collaboration towards resolving this pressing issue."


Deciphering North Korea's Signals

Following the AFVKN's new policy announcement, Kim Yo Jong issued a statement. She is the sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. In her state broadcast message, the senior official alluded to the potential for a Japan-North Korea summit in Pyongyang. 

"We don't necessarily believe her comments are entirely unrelated to our new policy," Yokota explained. "However, she stated that she spoke in a personal rather than official capacity. Prime Minister Kishida has indicated that negotiations are taking place behind the scenes. Her remarks would suggest that perhaps not all our conditions have been met yet and that she is testing the water, so to speak." 

Kim Yo Jong is the Deputy Director of the Workers' Party of Korea (©Korean Central News Agency)

Yokota elaborated, "We have seen cases in the past of Pyongyang making these kinds of statements before diplomatic negotiations. At times, they aim to gather insights or influence the negotiations, occasionally seeking to disrupt them. That is why the Association will continue to monitor the situation carefully."

Moreover, Yokota discerned a hint of unease within the North Korean government from Kim Yo Jong's statement. "I sense an underlying anxiety or insecurity in her remarks. It appears she's perturbed by the situation."

A New Approach

Pyongyang also recently declared that future talks with Japan will have nothing to do with North Korea's nuclear weapons program. In response, Yokota elucidated the Association's perspective. "Kishida has consistently highlighted the interrelation of the abduction issue with nuclear disarmament, missile programs, and human rights," he noted.

"Unfortunately, the government's bundled approach has not led to resolution," he continued. "Their insistence that resolving the abduction issue hinges on addressing nuclear disarmament hasn't yielded results." He voiced concern regarding the prolonged anguish of separated families and the passing of older generations without the hope of reunification.

"We advocate separating nuclear talks from humanitarian concerns," he stressed, underlining the necessity of prioritizing the resolution of abduction issues. "Our stance has been communicated to both the Japanese and North Korean governments," he added.

Yokota indicated the Association and the Japanese government were aligned on this approach. "We're aware that Kishida is engaging in talks with North Korea, based on this new policy," he said. 

"The specifics of ongoing negotiations between Japan and North Korea remain uncertain," he admitted. "However, we stress the urgency of addressing shared human rights and humanitarian concerns." Yokota emphasized the importance of progress within the boundaries of international sanctions, concluding that "progress is essential" in resolving these critical issues.

Sakie Yokota (left), mother of abductee Megumi Yokota, as well as Akihiro Arimoto, father of abductee Keiko Arimoto, participated in a discussion about the abductions on August 2, 2023 at the Nihombashi Takashimaya Department Store in Tokyo. (Pool photo)

Unwavering Resolve

Despite the Association's updated policy, the families' enduring anger and hopes in the Japanese government remain unchanged. Yokota also emphasized the primary responsibility of the North Korean state in resolving the abduction issue. 

"As I mentioned in my opening remarks, the responsibility lies with the North Korean state, not Japan, in resolving this issue." He urged the Japanese government to assertively address the situation while entering negotiations, emphasizing the importance of remembering these facts.

"We demand the simultaneous return of all abductees, including those Japan has not yet identified, he reiterated. "Furthermore, we reject partial returns and urge the government to pursue a comprehensive solution." 

The conference concluded with a heartfelt appeal to the humanity of those in attendance. When questioned about the authenticity of the photo of Megumi displayed before the press, Yokota responded, "Perhaps it was photoshopped." The Yokota family received the photo from North Korea. "Given North Korea's track record, it's prudent to approach anything they provide with skepticism."

The time and circumstances of the photo are unclear. What I do know is that that is my sister. And I've never seen her look so sad in my life. As you're looking at this, I want everybody to think, 'What if this were my family? My children?' Let that sink in."


Author: Daniel Manning