It was symbolically very significant that Antony Blinken’s first overseas trip as U.S. Secretary of State was to Japan, and then South Korea, before he went to Alaska for high-level talks with China’s foreign affairs chief Yang Jiechi and State Councilor Foreign Minister Wang Yi.
One particularly notable aspect of Blinken’s diplomatic trip to Asia was the fact that during the Japan-U.S. Foreign and Defense Ministerial Meeting (Two Plus Two), he conspicuously wore a “blue ribbon badge” on his coat lapel.
The blue ribbon is meant to stand for the blue of the Sea of Japan and the skies between Japan and North Korea, since geographically these are the only things separating our two nations. The insignia is meant to represent the desire of families who have had members abducted by North Korea to be reunited with their loved ones.
According to the U.S. Embassy, Blinken wore the badge on his lapel throughout his entire stay in Tokyo.
Before his arrival in Japan, Sakie Yokota (85) and Takuya Yokota (53), mother and brother of abductee Megumi Yokota, who was age 13 at the time of her kidnapping, met with John Young, Charge d’Affaires ad interim of the U.S. Embassy in Japan. During the meeting they presented a letter addressed to Mr. Blinken, asking that the Biden Administration do all it can to help finally resolve the abduction issue. Blinken has said that he found the letter “very powerful and moving” and “feels full solidarity with the families and the people of Japan.”
Although ultimately it is Japan itself that must resolve the abduction question, it is very significant that our ally the United States has continuously expressed understanding of our position. It was pressure from the United States when then president George W. Bush labeled North Korea as a member of the “Axis of Evil” that paved the way for then prime minister Junichiro Koizumi’s trip to Pyongyang (in September 2002) that resulted in the return to Japan of five abductees. Former president Donald Trump also brought up the abduction issue during U.S.-North Korea summit meetings.
The letter to Blinken from the Association of Families of Victims Kidnapped by North Korea (AFVKNK) noted, “North Korea only comes into negotiations when there is strong pressure.” It also asked that the Biden Administration not relax the current sanctions on Pyongyang until the North Koreans immediately return all of the abductees.
U.S. cooperation is absolutely essential if pressure from international society is to force North Korea to settle the longstanding problem. Therefore, strengthening our bilateral alliance will pave the way to such a resolution.
There are other indications that there may be movement on the abduction issue. Ruling Liberal-Democratic Party secretary-general Toshihiro Nikai told a meeting of the executive committee of the suprapartisan Diet Members Association for Promotion of Normalization of Japan-North Korea Relation that it was time for action.
“For example, I am thinking of a trip to North Korea with the support of all parties,” Nikai said. The veteran legislator added, “We can’t get through to them (North Korean government) by simply saying ‘the abductee issue is the [government’s] most important consideration.’”
Getting the ruling and opposition parties to discuss the abduction issue is all to the good. However, a visit by a parliamentary delegation to North Korea risks “two-channel diplomacy” and would send a wrong message that normalizing diplomatic relations is more important than resolution of the abductions.
The turmoil caused by such ill considered conduct would only cause further delay in finally resolving the abductions.
(Read the Sankei editorial in Japanese at this link.)
Author: Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun