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The first Abe cabinet was the ‘abduction issue cabinet’. One of Abe’s first moves as Prime Minister was to establish the Headquarters of the Abduction Issue, a body composing the entire cabinet with Abe at the chair. Along with his utsukushii kuni imagery, Abe swooped down on the abduction as though his wings had been unclipped.

Since the build-up to the Pyongyang Summit, Abe had been the abduction issue czar. From 2005, he exercised his power as Chief Cabinet Secretary (which had made such strong reputations for Ichiro Ozawa and Yasuo Fukuda) and pushed the abduction issue globally. He was the man who told Koizumi not to sign the Pyongyang Declaration, and pushed to bring the surviving abductees home and to keep them there.

As Prime Minister, Abe pushed NHK to broadcast more shortwave radio programmes on the abduction issue, began funding the Sukuukai’s Shiokaze programme, and even started a government version too. His whole government worked to bring the abduction issue to the top of everyone’s minds, helped in no small part by the 2006 July missile launches and October nuclear test, and not to forget Abduction: The Megumi Yokota Story and Paul Stookey’s Song for Megumi (which has been milked more than a Hokkaido farmer’s cash crop). At the same time, he resolutely refused to give any slack to North Korea in the Six-Party Talks, and looked to be getting left behind.

But has that all changed now? Abe has a new cabinet, and we’re seeing that the government might be softening their line on North Korea. Say it isn’t so!

N. Korean envoy sees ‘some progress’ in Japan’s attitude
(Taken from
SHENYANG, China, Aug. 29 (AP)

North Korea’s ambassador in charge of normalization talks with Japan said Wednesday he sees “some progress” in Japan’s attitude toward his country, striking a rare positive note toward Tokyo ahead of bilateral talks on bitter disputes slated for next week.

Speaking to reporters at Shenyang’s airport, Song Il Ho also welcomed Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s comments on Tuesday about the need to resolve issues linked to Japan’s 1910-1945 colonization of the Korean Peninsula.

“It was the first reference to the settlement of the past, and I personally evaluate this in a good way,” Song said before boarding an airplane headed to Pyongyang.

Asked about Japan’s recent overall attitude, he said, “It appears to have made some progress.”

Song’s comments come before Japan and North Korea hold the second meeting of their working group under the six-party denuclearization framework on Sept. 5-6 in Ulan Bator. Song is expected to head the North Korean delegation to those talks.

Song said he will “make efforts” so that the talks would make progress.

He did not confirm or deny whether he met with Japanese government officials in China.

Japan and North Korea have been unable to normalize diplomatic relations due to bitter disputes, including one over the abductions of Japanese nationals by North Korean agents.

Abe told reporters Tuesday that he hopes North Korea will take “a sincere attitude” in the upcoming bilateral meeting.

He also said Japan hopes to “proceed with negotiations based on the Pyongyang Declaration, which calls for the normalization of diplomatic relations by solving the abduction, nuclear and missile issues and by settling the unfortunate past.”

In Shenyang, Song also told reporters that a decision on whether Japan will provide aid to North Korea’s flood victims in response to a call from the United Nations is up to Tokyo.

“Japan is a member of the United Nations, and whether it will act in line with a U.N. call is up to Japan itself,” he said.

Japanese Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura said earlier Wednesday that Japan is considering whether or not it will participate in the U.N. call for $14 million in assistance to victims of North Korean floods triggered by heavy rains last month.

Machimura’s comments come at a time when Japan maintains it will not participate in energy aid for North Korea under the six-party denuclearization process until progress is made on the abduction issue.

‘Progress’ and a ‘change in attitude’ can only signify, to my mind, that it truly is so.

For full disclosure, I literally just finished my Masters dissertation on the (ab)use of the abduction issue by what I term as the ‘new conservative’ movement (of which Abe is a key figure). While part of me hopes that Abe has the conviction to stick to his original line so that my dissertation is not out-dated before I even hand it in, the human side of me is glad that there is the tiniest prospect of progress once more. Of course, he will still strut the hard-line, but privately we might be seeing an easing up.

Either way, however, I do not expect long-term progress at this stage.


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