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Abducted: The Japanese Kidnapped by North Korea

Families of North Korean Abductees Release New Policy: Key Takeaways 

The new policy paves the way for stronger negotiations with North Korean leaders for the return of all abductees while some of their parents are still alive.



Takuya Yokota, representative of the Family Association, answers media questions on the afternoon of March 4. Tetsuya Yokota, Sakie Yokota, and Tsutomu Nishioka also stand by at the Prime Minister's Office. (© Sankei by Hideyuki Matsui)

In February, the Association of the Families of Victims Kidnapped by North Korea (AFVKN, or Family Association) and the National Association for the Rescue of Japanese Kidnapped by North Korea (NARKN) convened a joint conference. There, the two groups crafted a policy strategy for 2024 aimed at the immediate rescue of the victims of North Korean abduction.

The essence of the policy was encapsulated in the following statement:

We will not oppose Japanese humanitarian aid or the lifting of unilateral sanctions imposed by Japan [on North Korea] if all abductees are returned while their parents are still alive.

As the Chairman of NARKN, I would like to introduce excerpts from the new policy and explain the thoughts and motivations behind it.

Time is Running Out

The new policy reflects the pressing reality of the approaching "deadline" — namely, this must be resolved while the abductees' remaining parents are still alive. This is explained in the excerpt:

Among the Family Association members, the only surviving parents of the abductees are Akihiro Arimoto, the father of Keiko Arimoto, and Sakie Yokota, the mother of Megumi. Akihiro, aged 95, relies on a wheelchair. Sakie, aged 88, faces health challenges and underwent emergency surgery in February 2023. The situation leaves no room for delay.

At the conference, we also discussed North Korea's recent unusual movements. For example, on January 5, North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un sent a condolence telegram to Prime Minister Fumio Kishida following the Noto Peninsula earthquake


Additionally, on February 15, Kim's sister, Kim Yo Jong, Deputy Director of the Workers' Party of Korea, spoke about the possibility of Kishida visiting North Korea. 

We evaluated these developments as "worthy of attention but requiring careful consideration and analysis regarding their intentions."

However, Kim Yo Jong also said in her statement that the abduction issue was "resolved." Of course, we reject such claims as "absolutely unacceptable."

Members of the Abduction Victims' Family Association and Rescue Association hand over their new policy statement to Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. On March 4 at the Prime Minister's Residence (© Sankei by Hideyuki Matsui)

Allowing Humanitarian Aid

In formulating our new policy initiative, we carefully considered various scenarios that we have faced so far.

In 2023, for the first time, we stated in our policy that we would not oppose Japanese humanitarian aid to North Korea, conditional on the immediate repatriation of all abductees while the remaining parents were still alive.

This decision stemmed from Prime Minister Kishida's declaration at a national rally on the abduction issue in October 2022. He stated, "The abductions issue is a human rights issue with time restrictions as the families of the victims continue to age." 

Kishida signaled that the government would be addressing the abductions as a separate priority from the North Korean nuclear and missile issues.

Providing humanitarian aid such as food does not violate the United Nations sanctions against North Korea. However, we were concerned that implementing this approach before resolving the North Korean nuclear and missile issues could face opposition from countries like the United States.

Nevertheless, the government of Japan has committed to moving forward by tackling the abduction issue separately. This is why we included the possibility of allowing humanitarian aid to bolster negotiations with North Korea.


Considering Unilateral Sanctions

Our 2024 policy initiative also includes the clause: "We do not oppose the lifting of unilateral sanctions." As mentioned earlier, this decision was based on the aging of the victims' families and North Korea's recent unusual movements.

By "unilateral sanctions," we mean Japan's own sanctions on North Korea that go beyond sanctions based on the UN Security Council resolutions. For example, the prohibition of port entry for North Korean vessels like the passenger/cargo ferry Mangyongbong-92

The Family Association and the Rescue Association have historically opposed the port entry of the Mangyongbong. In our new policy, we are taking the opposite stance — a decision that was not made lightly. It was made solely in the hope of bringing home the abductees as soon as possible.

No Concessions

Another important point in our policy is the call for strengthening sanctions if North Korea refuses to return the abductees. This is the excerpt:

If the immediate return of all abductees is not achieved within the deadline (while the victims' parents are still alive), we will, with strong indignation, demand the strengthening of unilateral sanctions [on North Korea].

This reflects the resolute stance of the Family Association leadership, including Takuya Yokota, the association's representative and Megumi Yokota's younger brother.

Some have unduly focused on the language "not oppose" humanitarian aid or lifting sanctions. I would like to clear up any misinterpretations. What we are doing is issuing a clear warning to North Korea — not conceding to it.

In concluding our policy, we included a cautionary note about North Korea's propensity to use diversionary tactics. Here is an excerpt: 


Finally, we remind the Japanese government, as we have many times before, that a Japan-North Korea summit will not necessarily lead to the immediate return of all abductees. North Korea will likely employ various tactics during negotiations, as it has in the past. We hope all of these will be soundly rejected while continuing to demand the immediate return of all abductees.

Avoiding the Pitfalls of Deception

In 2014, North Korea's intelligence agencies came up with a plan to reveal only a few of the victims while obscuring the rest. In joint consultations with Japan [in Stockholm] North Korea said it would conduct a full-scale investigation on Japanese nationals using the Special Investigation Committee. Then they used this effectively to shelve the issue.

As explained many times previously, North Korea has detailed information on the whereabouts of the victims. Therefore, such assertions by North Korea are merely stalling tactics and must not be accepted under any circumstances.

Moving Beyond the Loathing

On March 4, we presented this new policy to Prime Minister Fumio Kishida at the Prime Minister's Office.

Takuya Yokota's words at that meeting encapsulated the essence of the policy: 

In North Korea's abductions, North Korea is the perpetrator, and Japan is the victim. Personally, my feelings toward North Korea are nothing but anger, hatred, hostility, and resentment. Nevertheless, we have made significant changes to our policy to prioritize the reunification of the abductees with their parents.

In response, the Prime Minister stated, "I deeply understand your earnest sentiments and I am renewing my determination." He added, "I intend to consistently convey my resolve to the other party [Kim Jong Un] from the perspective of carving out a new era."

This policy shift represents a significant move towards dialogue. We implore the Prime Minister to recognize the desperate determination driving this decision and use it to produce tangible results.



(Read the article in Japanese.)

Author: Tsutomu Nishioka 
Nishioka is a senior fellow and a Planning Committee member at the Japan Institute for National Fundamentals and a specially-appointed professor at Reitaku University. He covers South and North Koreas.