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The abductee problem that won't go away

17 Comments
By Henry Hilton

Rushing through Shinjuku station to catch a late afternoon train, I ended up on the wrong platform. Jumping stupidly onto a local commuter service, I found myself standing directly in front of an elderly, well-dressed gent whose face seemed vaguely familiar. Sitting straight-backed and looking straight ahead was the father of Japan's most famous abductee Megumi Yokota. None of my fellow passengers gave Shigeru Yokota so much as a sideways glance, though some must surely have recognized a man whose dignity and determination are known throughout the nation.

I got off at the next station, resisting the temptation to say something. In the case of Mr and Mrs Yokota, there can be few people in Japan who don't feel enormous sympathy for their plight and the manner in which they have conducted their campaign. The abduction of their then 13-year-old daughter Megumi from Niigata in November 1977 by North Korean agents and their refusal to give up in a gutsy attempt to find out the truth over her fate is widely known. Their belief that Megumi may yet be alive, though emphatically denied by North Korea, and a wish to get to the bottom of this long-drawn out saga keeps the Yokotas in the spotlight.

Yet the question of what has happened to Megumi Yokota and the 16 other Japanese believed by Tokyo to have been abducted has to be placed in a wider context. The public may regard the abductee issue as completely separate from regional issues but, as Gavan McCormack argues cogently in his recent working paper "Japan and North Korea: The Long and Twisted Path towards Normalcy" -- published by the U.S.-Korea Institute at SAIS in Washington DC -- any final establishment of the facts about Megumi Yokota and the other abductees is tied to bigger questions.

As North Korea restarts its old practice of saber-rattling timed, doubtless, to coincide with the inauguration of the Obama administration, the Japanese government will have to decide on its policies regarding the abductees and how best it can work with its partners to prevent further nuclear testing programs by Pyongyang. Concern by outsiders that successive Japanese governments have been obsessed with the abductee issue at the real risk of being left behind as other nations have attempted to reach some approximate accommodation with North Korea over its nuclear testing sites does not appear to be shared by the Japanese state.

Yet there must surely be negotiations with North Korea over its nuclear project. Everyone in northeast Asia -- aside, that is, from those nutters who advocate some form of doomsday scenario or wish that China would simply occupy the place in order to sort it out -- knows this to be the truth. Since regional realities can not be ignored, it has to be underlined that a denuclearization deal, preferably through the six-power talks, simply has to have a far higher priority than that of the fate of the poor abductees.

Japanese politicians, egged on by the media at times and at others eagerly pushing the issue for all it is worth, may not wish to say this in public but there it is. First, establish a general deal with North Korea and then endeavor to normalize Japan-DPRK relations and perhaps get a resolution to what happened to the abductees. By putting things the other way round, Japan is becoming isolated from its allies and can hardly be said to have gained much satisfaction to date over discovering what the truth may be over its abductees.

To win even a modicum of progress, Japan does not have many options. Bilateral negotiations are improbable and even if they do get underway, a harsh line that threatens to restrict aid and humanitarian support to North Korea would surely produce an early impasse. There remains only the prospect of more regional talks under the auspicies of the six-party scheme and later, more restricted, two-way discussions with an agenda that would cover the fate of Japanese nationals abducted as long ago as 1977 and many wider issues too. Yet the fact that Japan is wary of measures taken last autumn by the United States in an effort to encourage North Korea back to the conference table only adds to the conundrum and strengthens the hand of those who advocate a hard-line approach to Kim Yong Il's regime.

To even begin to reach these goals, Japan will eventually have to confront its own misbehavior during its four decades of colonialism on the Korean peninsula and accept that some, probably disguised, form of reparations may well be called for. Normalization of Japan-DPRK relations will require plenty of self-examination by both sides and a dozen uncomfortable admissions en route.

The Japanese public's understandable concern at present over the abductees serves unfortunately only to narrow the chances of any resolution of the Korean problem for years ahead. It would take a brave political leader to work round this hurdle and demonstrate the required maturity to explain to his or her nation how the greater success might be achieved. Any start on all this may well have to wait until after this year's general election and the determination of a new cabinet to take a fresh initiative.

© Japan Today

©2021 GPlusMedia Inc.

17 Comments
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This Henry Hilton guy suggests Japan actually capitulate with the North Koreans, even using Japan's colonial occupation in the past as a defence against Japan demanding vindication for the victim's families. We can safely conclude that he is no bleeding heart J-nationalist sympathiser but it cannot be said that he supports the interests of the typical Japanese. He is right in his observation that the current approach taken by Japan is impractical however, his obvious shortfall (apart from how he pronounces and writes Kim's given name lol) is the suggestion that Japan should actually appease the tyrant for further response on the issue.

I may not speak for any in the camp of supporters for the abductees and their familties, but would Megumi's parents want to know the truth by going far as compromising their own country's dignity as democratic sovereign state? Do the common Japanese want the global community to think that we'll treat despots in exchange for dubious self-disclosure on the crimes they commit? Japan already has a nation across the Pacific to which it must continuously yield in humiliation. She does not need to yield to another, especially one that can't even feed its own citizens.

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There's no need to have diplomatic, trade or any other kind of relationship with North Korea. Just ignore them and have absolutely more nothing to do with their childish threats and bombastic bluster. Let China sort them out. It's a pity if the North Koreans are starving to death, but that's entirely the fault of their despot leader. There's no tree bark and grass in his diet.

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How does he even know Mr. Yokota? Hmmm ill but this in fiction. There we go...

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How does he even know Mr. Yokota? Hmmm ill but this in fiction. There we go...

I expect he watches TV. I could give a good photo-fit description of either the Yokotas. I haven't met them, just seen them on TV a dozen times.

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While completely sympathetic to these people for losing their daughter,this issue is really starting to become tiring.The "let's just roll out the Yokota's " attitude to get a bit of extra attention from the US or some celebrity from this country is hypocritical when Japan itself won't commit to any action of substance.Nth Korea kidnapped perhaps 47 people ? As the writer says,until Japan can start to acknowldege some of its history,as usual no-one will take them seriously...or the poor Yokota's.

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How does he even know Mr. Yokota? Hmmm ill but this in fiction. There we go...

Of course everybody in japan knows the Yokota's face ! How you dont "JeromeinUSA" ?

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I am beginning to think Jpn simply does NOT want this issue resolved, because if it were ever resolved then Jpn will have to face its nasty history in Korea. Jpn didnt sign any treaties yet so they can kiss off NKorea. You can bet the LDP oyaji`s dont ever want to admit Jpns misdeeds & definitely wont want to pay reparations & THAT is what awaits Jpn shud the abductee issue be resloved, I dont think Jpn wants to go there.

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It won't go away because NHK and JT keep mentioning it on a daily basis!

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As heinous as the abductions are, on a human level, I often wonder what reaction you would get if you asked the average local the question as to why NK has issues with Japan. NK's very existence is a direct result of Japan's war mongering and meddling during the 20th century.

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Here is how you fix North Korea, Cuba, and a whole bunch of other crazy places. Open up trade 100%. People start seeing the goods, and the leaders will be pushed out.

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I purposely think N. Korea is not taking this issue very seriously because Japan doesn`t take their own issues seriously. They are making Japan look stupid and hypocritical. 30 years down the road and still nothing. Shows you how ineffective politics presents itself...

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The constant public appeals for a resolution of the problem that we get in the Japanese media won't solve anything. I am really getting tired of it--every single citizen in J. knows about and feels sorry about their plight. Who are they appealing to, anyway? NK does not watch NHK, and even if they did, they could give a damn about J. public opinion.

The abductee's families should be more critical of their own govt., which is so weak in international diplomacy as to be pathetic. J. govt. needs to be more forceful and imaginative on this issue, but instead they are hopeless, arguing in the diet like children about who said what, etc. Meanwhile, thousands are losing jobs. What a joke the J. govt. is, and a very bad one at that.

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Consider how Japan would be if some broad-minded folks hadn't shown deep compassion and understanding, with broad negotiations, after WWII. Japan was the recipient of incredible largesse, despite the horrific treatment of POW's, civilians, especially KOREANS, who's country they had drained of riches, population, and pride. Why cannot Japan show some compassion for the people of North Korea? There are certainly many more abductees still missing from Korea, never accounted for, than these few from Japan. I will never sign those abductee petitions, until those kind-minded folk make a much stronger effort at resolving the Korean issue here in Japan. The martyr complex of Japan must come to an end. Oh, dear, we are always the victims! Hang it out to dry.

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Of course everybody in japan knows the Yokota's face

not me - been here 8 years and even if they told me their names it would mean nothing to me. How come? Don't watch NHK I guess.

It's sad of course, no denying that, but should it hold up everything? Not sure who is being more childish here...

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I think it's one of those issues that have no weight if they are not your own. The Japanese gov't overlooked the issue for 30 years, and the reason some abductees could return home was strictly due to their families' tireless campaign and a few politicians finally standing up for them. The recent gov't abductee campaign is based on the remorse for the aging families, and the public knows that their continued concern is the first step for any further development despite their doubt for effectiveness.

It's too bad that the abductee card have to be played with the nuclear talks on the same table, although it wasn't those families' first intention. They've always just simply wanted their missing members home but ended up in the political quagmire.

Lastly, the Japan's WWII atrocities have no relevance to this issue, as even NK never meant the abduction to serve as retaliation. Japan has already made numerous apologies on WWII issues and cannot change the past. NK is dealing with the ongoing issue and always has their option of solving the issue.

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NK will continue to languish unless they produce something of value. They milk the abduction issue because they is pretty much the only reason people pay them any mind. That and their nukes. Kim Jong Il is a god among his people. If they solved their problems, they would realize he is not a god but a nutter with a goofy hairdo.

The only solution is to send in ninja assassins to take care of him.

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It really is only one thing that Japan can harp on about with North Korea. Agree with whomever said they really don't want it resolved. Now if only Japan could do something about those kidnapped kids of gaijin parents being allowed to stay in Japan...

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