At a joint press conference on Monday, November 6th, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and United States President Donald Trump described the relationship between the two countries as something beyond an alliance, rather they called it a “bond.”
In part, this was forged during their meeting, just before the leaders faced the press, with the families and representatives of Japanese citizens kidnapped by North Korean agents decades ago, which have yet to be rescued.
“Prime Minister Abe has shared the tragic stories of Japanese young people whom North Korea has abducted over the years. Together we met with the parents of Megumi Yokota, who was abducted as a young girl in 1977. No child should ever be subjected to such cruelty and no parents should have to endure 40 years of heartbreak,” Trump said.
Trump’s expression showed that he found what had happened inconceivable. During his meeting with the families of abductees, he received a photograph from Sakie Yokota, whose daughter Megumi was abducted 40 years ago, when she was only 13. Trump and First Lady Melania shook their heads while looking at it, describing the situation, “Unbelievable.”
“The spotlight is now on the abduction issue,” the US President said.
Trump himself put the spotlight on this very issue during his speech to the United Nations General Assembly on September 19th, where he cited the abduction of Megumi as yet another example of the atrocities committed by North Korea. Subsequently, on September 20th, Prime Minister Abe also touched on Megumi’s case in his speech before the General Assembly, stating his determination to conclusively resolve the abduction issue.
It was not coincidence the two leaders brought up the abduction issue on consecutive days while speaking at the United Nations. Since the beginning of the Trump administration in January of this year, Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and related government agencies have approached the US government based on instructions from the Prime Minister.
These efforts have apparently produced results, making a strong impression with Trump concerning the abduction issue.
During the joint press conference held on September 21st, in conjunction with the meeting of the Japanese and US leaders, Abe thanked Trump for his UN speech. He went on to say, “I would really like you to meet with the victims of abduction when you come in November.” In response to Abe's request, Trump replied, “OK!”
The government of Japan is not focused on the abduction issue merely to garner attention from the wider international community.
In context of a situation where military action directed against North Korea is “one possible course of action,” the fact that President Trump, as commander in chief of the US military, has brought up the abduction cases is equivalent of saying to “make rescuing the abductees a part of contingency planning for any possible military action.”
While there arguably was impact from the US President just discussing the abductee issue, the fact that he met with returned abductees and the families of still missing victims conveys message to the American military that cannot be ignored.
Likewise, it would appear that Trump was quite conscious that his message would also have an impact on North Korea.
When asked during the press conference on a possible strategy that may be used to rescue hostages, he responded: “Perhaps we can have some very good luck. Perhaps the regime itself will send them back. I think it would be a tremendous signal if Kim Jong-un would send them back. If he would send them back, that would be the start of something that would be very special.”
Has Trump given any indication his administration would engage in dialog with Pyongyang if the subject was the safe return of abductees? I would like to believe this will not end with the already faint hopes of the families of abductees becoming even dimmer.
Makiko Takita is a staff writer of the Sankei Shimbun Political news department.
(Click here to read the original article in Japanese.)