A United Nations symposium designed to strengthen international cooperation toward solving the issue of abductions of Japanese citizens by North Korea was held online on the evening of June 29. Participating were representatives from Japan, the United States, Australia, South Korea, and the European Union.
This symposium brought a renewed emphasis on the cooperation of the international community on the issue. It also came in the wake of the North Korean regime's issuance of a statement the day before. North Korea claimed in the statement, among other things, that the issue of abducted Japanese was already "settled."
UN symposia are usually held at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this was the third consecutive occasion on which it was held online instead. Watch the symposium here.
Japanese Families of Victims Speak Out
Yokota appealed for the early return of abduction victims to Japan. He said: "If the parents who are waiting for their abducted children are not reunited with them while they are still alive and healthy, the problem cannot be considered resolved."
In May Japanese family members made their first trip to Washington DC in four years. Top Biden Administration officials pledged to deepen cooperation on the issue. They said, for example, "We will do all we can to assist."
Nonetheless, on June 28 the Institute for Studies of Japan within North Korea's Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a contrary statement. It claimed the Japanese abductees issue "has already been completely resolved."
It also charged that the symposium was "trying to create an atmosphere of collective oppression."
'We Just Want Them Back'
Takuya Yokota participated as the representative for a group of family members of abductees. Following the symposium, he answered reporters' questions.
He emphasized, "We sincerely believe that Kim Jong Un will hear our voices." He added that the families continued to harbor hopes for an early breakthrough.
During the symposium, Yokota emphasized: "We have a situation in which the human rights of families and siblings continue to be violated. The international community cannot allow this to continue. As individuals living in free societies, we must assume responsibility and solve the problem."
"Our message to General Secretary Kim Jong Un is simply this," he continued. "All we are asking is the return of our family members and siblings. We are not interested in having them expose secrets that they might have learned in North Korea. Or anything else after they return. Please believe us and agree to a summit meeting with Japan."
Abducted, Leaving Infants Behind
A great deal of time has passed since the abductions took place. And not much time remains for a true resolution. It would not be a true solution if the victims in North Korea do not return to their homeland while their family members are still alive and healthy.
He once again pleaded for the return of the victims to Japan as soon as possible. "If more deaths should further divide the abductees and their families," he said, "we will surely look at North Korea with nothing but hatred and anger."
A Sign of Hope
After the symposium concluded Takuya Yokota noted that in May the North Korean side made a public statement. It said, "There is no reason for Japan and North Korea not to meet if Japan is seeking ways to improve relations."
"I took this as a promising sign for future negotiations between Japan and North Korea," he concluded.
On the other hand, on June 28, the day before the symposium, North Korea issued its statement on this and other things. In it, the North claimed that the abduction of Japanese citizens had been "completely resolved." Concerning that rejection, Yokota said, "We cannot accept that."
Koichiro Iizuka (46) lamented that it had already been 45 years since his mother Yaeko Taguchi was abducted in late June 1978. He mentioned the continuing deaths among family members of the abductees. Among them was the passing away of Taguchi's older brother Shigeo Iizuka, in 2021 at the age of 83. Iizuka was the former head of the abductees' family association.
He added, "Yaeko there in North Korea would be 67 years old now. And with each passing year, we worry and become more anxious that she is alive and healthy."
Summit Seen as Important Step Toward Building Bilateral Ties
During the UN symposium on the evening of September 29, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno strongly reiterated Japan's determination to take the initiative in resolving the long-lingering problem. Matsuno concurrently serves as Minister of State for the Abductions Issue.
Pyongyang has lashed out at the symposium and it remains to be seen whether they will agree to negotiations. Nevertheless, the Japanese government continues to seek dialogue with the North Koreans.
During the symposium, Matsuno remarked, "It is extremely important to build relationships among top officials."
Staying the Course
It is true that the North Koreans condemned the UN symposium in an article written by a researcher at a Foreign Ministry-controlled think tank. But a high-ranking Japanese official reacted calmly to it. He said, "That's just the standard line, it was not a statement by a high government official."
The symposium is held annually. And the same kind of statement was issued in 2022 following the online meeting, and the year before in 2021 prior to the meeting. The statements, moreover, make the same argument and were similarly issued under the name of a researcher at the institute.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Kishida first mentioned high-level talks to pave the way for a summit on May 27. Two days later North Korea issued a public statement which said among other things, "There is no reason why a meeting cannot be held if Japan is willing to make a new decision and seek ways to improve relations."
This statement was attributed to a vice minister for Foreign Affairs. A Japanese government source says, "You have to look at the level of the person making the statement when analyzing its significance."
Opportunities for Direct Communication
At this point, it is not clear whether North Korea will participate. Meanwhile, Japan is determined to explore all possible venues for dialogue.
- The Abductions: Kishida Eager for 'Direct, High-Level Discussions' and Possible Summit with Kim
- Letter to Megumi: Abductees' Families Make Difficult Concession for Breakthrough
- Engaging North Korea: New Perspectives in Diplomacy to Help Resolve the Abductions Issue
(Read the report in Japanese.)
Authors: Reina Kikkawa and Keita Ozawa, Sankei Shimbun staff writers