Kurata Hideya, a professor at Kyorin University, is a figure that has attracted some scorn for his belief that the public outrage over the abduction issue is a serious impediment to Japanese security, namely by promoting this historical occurrence over the existential threats posed by North Korean’s missile and nuclear development programmes.
I agree wholeheartedly with the opinion he expresses below. It is similar in tone to the opinion of Gerald Curtis, a pre-eminent Japan scholar, who said at a conference at The Korea Society on 24th November 2006,
Japan is not and will not be a major player on the North Korean issue. […] It has put itself in a corner in terms of taking a very hard-line policy and it is impossible for me to see this administration offering normalisation, reparations and the other things that would come in the process of normalisation as a way to entice North Korea back to the tables.
I don’t believe anyone (except the North Koreans, I imagine) is saying that the abduction issue isn’t worth pursuing, but rather that the Six Party Talks are neither the time or place. It is a matter of priorities. North Korea are reluctant to give away its newfound nuclear capabilities. That is where the focus should be placed.
Anyway, Kurata says it better than I:
[…] Progress in the Six Party Talks — which seem to be suffering a setback due to Pyongyang’s silence despite the passage of the December 31 deadline by which it was supposed to declare all its nuclear programs — is necessary for Japan to keep open the channel of dialogue with North Korea, without which the resolution of the abduction issue will be very difficult.
[…] The February 2007 agreement, under which North Korea will shut down its main reactor at Yongbyon in return for aid and possible US removal of North Korea from its list of state sponsors of terrorism, was a clear sign that the United States shifted to an approach of engagement within the Six Party Talks framework.
Washington’s turnaround has created a contradiction in approach between the UN Security Council and the regional Six Party Talks process. UN Resolution 1718 bans trade with North Korea having to do with weapons of mass destruction or luxury goods. On the other hand, the February agreement of the Six Party Talks acknowledged economic aid and regional diplomacy as most effective in nudging North Korea toward giving up its nuclear weapons. Thus the February agreement, which would offer practical gains to North Korea, contradicted the sanctions-imposing Resolution 1718. The pledge of massive economic aid announced by South Korea during the North-South meeting last October is exacerbating this contradiction.
Japan is embracing this contradiction in its policy toward North Korea. Japan is the only country among North Korea’s counterparts in the Six Party Talks that is imposing sanctions on its own terms. Under the February agreement, however, it is expected to improve relations with North Korea by providing aid. Japanese public opinion prefers the hard-line stance, believing that continued economic sanctions and the American designation of North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism constitute important “sticks” necessary to resolve the abduction issue.
We need to remind ourselves that ours is the country facing the greatest nuclear and missile threat from North Korea. According to the February agreement, Pyongyang must declare all its nuclear activities and disable its nuclear facilities before being removed from the American list of terrorist-supporting countries. We could have abandoned the Six Party Talks altogether when Pyongyang brazenly conducted its nuclear test in October 2006. Yet such abandonment may have encouraged the country to test another bomb. To be sure, the Six Party Talks do not guarantee the complete denuclearization of North Korea. Nevertheless, so long as there is no effective alternative, Japan must act as a responsible member of the multilateral diplomatic channel.
This does not suggest we should ignore the abduction issue. Both the nuclear and abduction issues need to be addressed, even though it is not necessary that the two issues be resolved at the same time through the same diplomatic channel. Without progress in the Six Party Talks, Tokyo and Pyongyang will hardly have the chance to sit down together to achieve a breakthrough in the abduction issue. Japan’s influence is limited within the Six Party Talks. Be that as it may, Japan must understand the paradox that robust multilateral talks alone can keep alive the bilateral negotiations with North Korea in which Japan can have its own say in resolving the thorny abduction issue.