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Every morning I wake up, turn on my PC, and open Firefox. This morning (and as I write this), BBC News has an Asia-Pacific article that caught my eye:

Japan extends N Korea sanctions
Last Updated: Tuesday, 9 October 2007, 03:49 GMT 04:49 UK

Japan has extended economic sanctions on North Korea, citing a lack of progress in a row over Japanese nationals abducted by Pyongyang.

The measures – which ban imports from North Korea and visits by its ships – will continue for another six months.

A top official said Japan was seeking advances on both the abduction and nuclear issues.

The move comes exactly a year after North Korea carried out its first nuclear test, on 9 October 2006.

Since then, Pyongyang has agreed to end its nuclear programme in return for millions of dollars worth of aid.

It has closed its main Yongbyon reactor and last week committed to a timetable for disclosing and dismantling all its nuclear facilities by the end of the year.

Later this week, a US-led team of experts are due to visit North Korea, where they will begin supervising the process of dismantling its nuclear installations.

‘No progress’

Japan is one of the five countries involved in the nuclear deal with North Korea.

But a major sticking point in the bilateral relationship has been the issue of Japanese citizens abducted by Pyongyang in the late 1970s and early 1980s to train spies.

“We saw the need to extend the sanctions because there has been no progress over the abduction issue,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura told journalists after the move was agreed at a Cabinet meeting.

North Korea admitted in 2002 that it had kidnapped 13 Japanese nationals. It has returned five of them and says the remaining eight are dead. It says the issue has now been resolved.

But Japan wants concrete proof of the deaths and believes that several more of its citizens were taken. There is huge public concern over the issue in Japan.

Talks in Mongolia last month aimed at resolving the dispute came to nothing.

The abduction row was not the only factor behind the decision, Mr Machimura said.

“We also took into comprehensive consideration the overall situation involving North Korea, including the nuclear issue,” he said.

A foreign ministry official told the Associated Press news agency that Japan wanted to see concrete steps from Pyongyang towards disabling its nuclear programme.

The sanctions – imposed last October after North Korea’s nuclear test – prevent visits by the Mangyongbong-92 ferry, the only direct link between the two countries, and ban imports from the impoverished nation.

They have now been extended until 13 April, officials said. The decision needs the endorsement of parliament, but the opposition have already agreed to the step.

Anyone reading the article can’t escape the implication that the extension has nothing to do with the nuclear issue, which has received a lot of pace in the past six months.

Then, upon opening Outlook (because opening both at the same time tends to cause Firefox to hang), I found my daily Japan Times email which included these articles:

Japanese abductee issue is over, Kim told Roh
Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2007

SEOUL (Kyodo) North Korean leader Kim Jong Il told South Korean President Roh Moo Hyun in last week’s summit that there are no more Japanese who have been abducted to the country, according to a South Korean professor who was a member of the delegation to Pyongyang.

Yonsei University professor Moon Jung In, who is an adviser to Roh and accompanied the president to Pyongyang for summits with Kim, said Roh raised the issue of Japanese kidnapped to the reclusive state in the 1970s and 1980s during the talks with Kim.

However, the North Korean leader simply answered that the issue is over, Moon said in a briefing to foreign journalists.

Japan believes some Japanese taken to North Korea decades ago may still be alive in the reclusive country.

Roh delivered a message to Kim from Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda that is believed to have touched on the kidnapping issue. But Kim’s only response appeared to be that there are no more Japanese abducted in the country and that the issue was closed, according to Moon.

This is simply confirmation of what we’ve known for a long time: the North Koreans believe there is nothing to give up. Coupled with this second article, I believe we might see a reason for the extension of sanctions:

Full resolution of abductee issue not required by U.S.
Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2007

WASHINGTON (Kyodo) The United States will not insist on a full resolution of the issue of North Korea’s past abduction of Japanese nationals as a condition for removing Pyongyang from its list of terrorism-sponsoring states, diplomatic sources said Monday.

While Tokyo has been asking Washington not to delist North Korea until all abductees are returned, the United States is putting greater emphasis on how cooperative the North will be, such as in giving additional explanations about the fate of eight abductees, including Megumi Yokota, as the criteria for judging the abduction issue resolved and removing Pyongyang from the list, said the sources.

The approach highlights Japan’s concerns that the United States could move to take North Korea off the blacklist as the six-party nuclear talks make progress even in the absence of tangible movement to resolve the abduction issue.

During the latest round of the six-party talks last month, North Korea agreed to disable three facilities in its Yongbyon nuclear complex and to provide a complete, correct declaration of all of its nuclear programs by Dec. 31.

If North Korea implements these agreements, it is expected that other six-party members, including South Korea, China and Russia, will step up pressure on the United States to remove Pyongyang from the list, a move that would isolate Japan, which finds it hard to compromise on the abduction issue given the sentiments of the abductees’ kin and public opinion.

According to the sources, the U.S. is focusing on how cooperative North Korea will be in elucidating the fate of the eight abductees – whom Pyongyang says are dead.

North Korea admitted in 2002 that it abducted 13 Japanese citizens, including the eight, to the country in the 1970s and 1980s. Five were later repatriated to Japan. Including the five, Japan officially recognizes that 17 people were abducted to North Korea.

North Korea has said the eight committed suicide, drowned or died from illness, poisoning or traffic accidents – an account rejected by their relatives and the Japanese government. Pyongyang also said their graves disappeared in a major flood in 1995.

With progress looking increasingly bleak for Japan, the Fukuda cabinet is showing that when he says ‘dialogue and pressure’ he does not simply mean ‘dialogue’. As an issue, it is a good one for Fukuda to continue to press largely due to the public support. However, whether Japan can get anything out of the abduction issue concurrently with progress on the nuclear issue remains to be seen. As it stands, we are simply seeing that the end of the Abe cabinet is not the end of primacy of the abduction issue in bilateral relations.



  1. Hi there,

    I’m a filmmaker who made a documentary recently on the abduction of Megumi Yokota, the youngest of the kidnapping victims by North Korea. The film’s titled, “ABDUCTION The Megumi Yokota Story” ( I wanted to write to commend you on continuing this important discussion about the abductions and I’m curious about your reading of the current situation. I noticed you mentionned that you think the abduction issue will most likely stay on the foreign policy agenda of the new Japanese PM. I know the families are concerned it won’t. Or, at least, it won’t to the extent it was under the previous Abe administration. Mr. Fukuda has indicated he wants to back away slightly from the tough talk. I’m curious to know more about why you think he won’t. Thanks again for continuing to raise this important issue on your blog. I think people need to talk about it more.

    Chris Sheridan

  2. Thank you for the comment, and my congratulations to you on producing an excellent, accessible (and may I add, successful) documentary. If you have seen some of my earlier posts, then you’ll see that trying to catch the film at the cinema or on TV was an adventure in itself :)

    Now, down to the nitty-gritty.

    For me, Fukuda is returning abduction politics to the Koizumi-era. Koizumi played the political game very well, keeping the kazokukai at arms length while reaping the public benefits of seeming progress on the issue.

    Abe was a hardline interlude. His policy was unbalanced pressure. Dialogue was thrown aside.

    When we are talking about Fukuda backing away, it is in relation to Abe. That step back is the introduction of dialogue, which in turn suggests a willingness to compromise.

    The abduction issue will not die down with a simple change of prime ministers. Politically, it promises too much for it to be put aside. If you want to get on the good side of the public and particularly the conservative elements of Japanese society, you have to pay lip service to the abduction issue… most probably through membership of rachi giren.

    The families want their children back more than anything, and their plight deserves everyone’s sympathies. For me, their tragedy is increased by the abuse their cause has suffered at the hands of nationalist conservatives.

    As such, I welcome Fukuda’s return to ‘dialogue and pressure’, and I would suggest to the families that progress can only be maintained if Japan has the flexibility to engage with the North Koreans multilaterally.

    Abe was a threat to that flexibility. Despite the promise of his first month in office where he demonstrated a possible knack for multilateral diplomacy and a drive to do what had to be done on the abduction front, ultimately he backed Japan into a corner and damaged the families’ cause by refusing all progress.

    Abe was the architect, among others, of abduction fever, but now that he’s gone, we are seeing a more level-headed approach. Unfortunately, the families are bound to see this with scepticism. However, had Abe had continued along his line, Japan would simply have been marginalised.

    The question remains, however, whether Fukuda can bring the balance required.

  3. Thanks for this. Interesting thoughts and much appreciated. I know the families tied a lot of their hopes in Abe so his resignation was a huge blow to them, too. I get the sense from you and other commentators that the abduction issue will continue to be tied in with each successive government. It’s simply unavoidable, which is good. Let’s hope the new administration does what all good governments should do: protect its citizens. That includes getting answers about a breach like this of the most basic security guarantees. If a government can’t protect its citizens from a foreign power snatching its people from its own territory, then it isn’t a very effective government. Can’t imagine the fire that would reign down on North Korea if these were Californians or South Carolinians or Texans, God forbid! On that note, I think credit is often not paid to the Japanese government for its measured, patient approach to this issue. They have tried all diplomatic means to resolve it and yet they still get dumped on by their critics. Some family members want a more militant approach to resolving it and I’d be the same way but the Japanese have resisted because of their Constitution and their respect for international agreements and laws.

3 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. […] Abduction Issue Bonanza! . Talks in Mongolia last month aimed at resolving the dispute came to nothing. The abduction […]

  2. By Maehara Gets It « Defending Japan on 17 Jan 2011 at 12:03 pm

    […] Circumstances: Part 1 [Jan 31, 2007] Mysterious Circumstances: Part 2 [Feb 3, 2007] Abduction Issue Bonanza! [Oct 9, 2007] The Abduction Issue and Japanese Long-Term Strategic Trajectory [Jan 21, 2008] Logos […]

  3. By Maehara Gets It | Japan Security Watch on 26 Jan 2011 at 9:59 am

    […] Circumstances: Part 1 [Jan 31, 2007] Mysterious Circumstances: Part 2 [Feb 3, 2007] Abduction Issue Bonanza! [Oct 9, 2007] The Abduction Issue and Japanese Long-Term Strategic Trajectory [Jan 21, 2008] Logos […]

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