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Given that there are only a few months to the July 2008 G8 Summit in Toyako, Hokkaido, it seems awfully seredipitous that the abduction issue is hitting the headlines again. In May, so far, the Japan Times has thrice reported stories relating to the issue.

On May 4th, it reported:

Don’t delist North: abductee group

A senior member representing families of Japanese abducted by North Korea urged the United States on Friday to keep North Korea on its list of terror-sponsoring nations until the abduction issue is resolved.

Teruaki Masumoto, secretary general of the Association of the Families of Victims Kidnapped by North Korea, made the pitch with supporters in a meeting with Christopher Hill, the top U.S. envoy to the six-party North Korea denuclearization talks.

“If North Korea is delisted, it will give the country breathing space and make efforts to rescue our families take longer. So we want North Korea to be kept on the list,” he told reporters after emerging from the meeting at the U.S. State Department.

[…]

“My impression is that Mr. Hill takes what North Korea says at face value and may not believe the victims of the abductions are still alive,” Masumoto said. “We believe the victims are definitely alive.”

Whenever the Kazokukai are in the US, you can be sure that more news will follow as the cohorts renew their politicking.

From May 10th:

Tokyo denies asking Seoul for Yokota meeting

The government Friday denied a media report that Japan asked South Korea to help arrange a meeting between the parents of Megumi Yokota […] and her granddaughter, who still lives in the reclusive state.

“The media report is not based on facts,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura told a news conference. “It is a very regrettable article when considering the feelings of the Yokota couple,” he said.

The Yomiuri Shimbun reported Friday morning that Kyoko Nakayama, an Upper House member and special adviser to Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda on the abduction issue, asked Seoul to help arrange with North Korea a meeting in South Korea between Shigeru and Sakie Yokota and Megumi’s daughter and former husband.

Citing a source knowledgeable of Japanese-South Korean relations, the article said Nakayama made the request during her visit to Seoul last month and said she intended to return cremated remains that North Korea handed to Japan in 2004 claiming they were those of Megumi, if such a meeting were arranged.

Nakayama flatly denied making such remarks when she visited Seoul on April 25. Nakayama told reporters that while she is aware the Yokotas want to meet with their granddaughter, it is not something that can be achieved by making a request to Seoul for help.

Nakayama also said the issue of the cremated remains was not even mentioned in her talks with the officials and repeated that Japan’s policy is that it will not return them to North Korea.

Has North Korea even asked for those ashes back? Doesn’t it still maintain that they are Yokotas, questioning the DNA testing along with assumedly neutral Nature, the science journal/magazine? The story seems absurd, so much so that I wonder what prompted it. Slow news day, perhaps? That the Yokotas would like to meet their granddaughter seems assured, but to suggest that the government would attempt to use the dodgy ashes to bargain with North Korea by way of the warier Lee Administration seems a little far-fetched. Such a policy doesn’t fit within the framework of dialogue and pressure, but, were it true and if it succeeded, it would have made for a good photoshoot ahead of the G8 Summit, in line with the raised stature of the abduction issue while all (some?) eyes are on Japan. Thus, I am on the fence with this one. Was it the Yomiuri trying to show up the government, or was it the matter of the government trying to prepare to raise the abduction issue in the context of the G8 Summit? I can’t tell.

Finally, from May 12th:

N. Korea suggested existence of other abductees in 2004

North Korea suggested to a Japanese official in early 2004 that there were abductees other than the 15 officially recognized as abduction victims by Tokyo at that time, government sources said Sunday.

Yoshiyuki Inoue, who was in charge of the abduction issue at the Cabinet Office, sought information on abductees other than the 15 when he visited North Korea several times between late 2003 and January 2004, and officials there indicated readiness to reveal the fates of some of them, according to the sources.

[…]Inoue was discussing with North Korea repatriation of family members of five abductees who had returned to Japan in October 2002, and examination of the whereabouts of another 10 abductees, the sources said. But Pyongyang suspended the talks in February 2004 when his visits to North Korea came to light in a media report.

This is the clincher. If North Korea can be shown to willfully withheld information from the Japanese government in its 2002-2004 diplomacy efforts, then there is justification for the further pursuit of the abduction issue (beyond the slightly naive notion that Yokota Megumi is alive). However, that Inoue failed to comment is notable: this is surely untrue. Would Abe Shinzo, most particularly, have failed to have levied such a charge against the North? I doubt that.

Abduction politics comes in fits and starts. How extensive this current concentration of noise becomes will not be clear until the G8 Summit begins, but I imagine that Japan will once again call upon the other 7 members to stand against North Korea’s human rights abuses and finally, although perhaps impossibly, bring Yokota Megumi home.

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I really enjoyed a (not so) recent post by Ampontan: Logos, pathos, and Japanese politics. I would really like to get my hands on a copy of Koizumi Seiken—Patosu no Shusho wa Nani wo Kaeta no ka? (the subject of the book review which sparked Ampontan’s post), although at this stage it would be little more than extra weight on my shelf.

My research area came from my understanding of the abduction issue as emotion overcoming reason, and thus it was with a happy sigh that I managed to read something addressing these two aspects of politics in the context of Japan… a sigh because I wish I had been able to read something like this sooner.

He quotes from the review:

(Professor Uchiyama) discusses the advantages and disadvantages of a strong prime minister who frequently resorted to pathos (passions, sentiment) and top-down methods of governing. […] But the author points out the dangers of Koizumi’s incorporation of pathos into politics, which was symbolic of his approach of stripping logos (reason and language) from politics, thereby weakening the logic of responsibility.

Ampontan then suggests that logos has been the preferred political mode in postwar Japan. It is also my preferred mode of politics and the very reason I wanted to take the Japanese government to task for its handling of the abduction issue in light of the very real nuclear threat posed by North Korea. He writes:

After their defeat in the war, perhaps the Japanese developed an antipathy to the use of emotional political appeals as they applied themselves to studying and incorporating the principles of liberal democracy.

This didn’t sit very well with my gut feelings about the abduction issue, although Ampontan’s later comments settle that impression somewhat:

That is not to say that Japanese are not susceptible to pathos; the public were enthusiastic patrons of the Koizumi Theater. It’s just that pathos does not always mix well with politics here.

I had held the view that Koizumi’s conduct regarding the abduction issue was calculated, controlled, and ultimately correct. If he pandered to the Kazokukai and Suukukai, it was in a fashion that kept the politicians largely in control. Certainly when contrasted with the handling by Abe Shinzo which was an absolute barrage on the public sensibilities, arguably stretching their energy in the issue past its point of elasticity. We all know of ‘aid fatigue’, the public’s over-exposure to aid campaigns (particularly in the age of LiveAid); well, I would argue that the Japanese public has suffered ‘abduction fatigue’.

Ampontan sums up my feelings quite well:

Mr. Koizumi used emotional appeals to sway the electorate, but he was an adroit, skillful politician with an engaging personality. In contrast, Mr. Abe lacked political skills, and his personality, while not unpleasant, tended toward the bland businesslike demeanor Japanese expect from men at work.

Every society suffers from hot-button issues, the kind of issues that are used to rally the electorate and identify opponents. The abduction issue, perhaps similarly with its public anti-nuclear principles, are one of Japan’s.

Koizumi used the abduction issue to bring the electorate behind him in 2002 and 2004 (in the latter case so successfully that even the victims’ families could not stand against him). He showed a calculation that Abe just couldn’t wield as a result of being the issue’s champion. Whereas Koizumi could reel the abduction issue’s advocates, Abe simply allowed them to run rampant. It is my feeling that Abe did more for the abduction issue as Koizumi’s Chief Cabinet Secretary than he could have ever had done as Prime Minister.

Finally, the media were a crucial part of the abduction issue’s growth and strength. They helped popularise the issue through the broadcasting of a ‘vicarious trauma’, as Hyung-gu Lynn wrote in Vicarious traumas: television and public opinion in Japan’s North Korea policy’. Ampontan’s comments on the role of pathos in the media are spot on:

Ideals as these, however, must confront the reality that people consume politics through television, and that the demands of television are intrinsically pathos-based and seek the dramatic rather than the sober and the serious.

From this he concludes that pathos is with Japanese politics until the end. I quite agree, although Fukuda’s stance on the issue appears to have brought back some much needed logos. Time will tell how much of that sticks.

The United States’ lack of real regard for the Japanese conduct of the abduction issue, or perhaps Japan’s hyper-sensitivity on the issue, is causing fractures in the US-Japan alliance.

The US has been linked to the abduction issue since it exploded into the Japanese public consciousness in 1997. The issue supposedly caught Clinton off-guard in an April 1997 summit; as Clinton asked the Japanese to provide food aid to the North Koreans, Prime Minister Hashimoto stated the new Japanese concern regarding North Korea’s abductions. The 1998 ‘Taepodong Shock’ showed the Clinton administration, and the rest of the world, that diplomacy with North Korea had to concentrate on North Korea’s destabilising missile and nuclear projects.

President Clinton argued in May 1999 that the best way to deal with the kidnapping issue was to settle the nuclear and missile issues and end the threat of war on the Korean peninsula. He asserted that once these issues were resolved, “it is more likely that other matters will also be resolved.” Unlike 1997, however, the Clinton administration recognized the credibility of the kidnapping issue. President Clinton and other administration officials acknowledged that Japan considered the issue important and that the United States would support Japan’s attempts to negotiate with North Korea on it. Clinton asserted again in May 1999 that: “If you believe that there are Japanese people who were abducted and taken to North Korea, I think you should keep working on it and looking until you find them alive or you know where they’re buried. And I will support that very, very strongly.”

Niksch, L. A. (2002). North Korea and Terrorism: The Yokota Megumi Factor. Korean Journal of Defense Analysis , 14 (1), 7-23: pp. 12-13

The position expressed by Clinton has stuck to this day. As a staff member of the US Embassy in London once told me in early 2007, Japan is America’s chief ally in the Asia-Pacific and the US supports its position on the abduction issue, however the issue is Japan’s not America’s, the US has its own interests to pursue. It’s a diplomatic stance, but in practice the US has sought to minimise the effect of Japanese stubbornness on the abduction issue.

Following the 1999 Perry Initiative, which “outlined a US strategy to negotiate a series of agreements with North Korea to reduce its missile and nuclear programs and eventually eliminate them” (Niksch, 2002, p. 13), the US attempted to secure a Japanese financial agreement to compensation (compared to money transferred during the South Korea-Japan normalisation of relations) without allowing them a negotiating role, presumably because of fears of derailment.

North Korea, at this point, presumably saw a diplomatic opening and entered into direct negotiations with the Japanese. North Korea has never been shy of playing powers off one another and with a possible agreement arising out of the Perry Initiative, North Korea possibly saw a chance to boost their ‘compensation’. However, this was not to be: “Kim Yong-sun’s offer created a situation in which Japan’s role in the Perry Initiative became dependent on direct Japan–North Korean negotiations in which Japan was determined to give priority to the kidnapping issue.” (Niksch, 2002, p. 16)

As the Japanese found their opening to directly negotiate on the abduction issue, the North Korean’s attempted to convince the US to remove it from the list of state sponsors of terrorism, an action that the Clinton administration seemed to seriously consider. As part of the diplomacy, the North Koreans would have to ‘address issues of past support of terrorism’ which, despite the abduction issue not being the reason for North Korea’s inclusion on the list, would have to include consultations with Japan regarding North Korea’s support for the Japanese Red Army. (Niksch, 2002, p. 17)

All the while, the Japanese campaigned to have the US include the abductions in North Korea’s listing, and threatened to undermine US attempts to separate the rational efforts to resolve the missile and nuclear issues from the emotive abduction issue.

Prime Minister Mori reportedly secured President Clinton’s agreement at the G-8 meeting on Okinawa in July 2000 for US diplomats to raise the kidnapping issue with North Korea. Japanese diplomats urged the Clinton administration to raise the issue directly with the visiting North Korean envoy, who arrived in Washington in October 2000. The Japanese renewed pressure for Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to place the issue on her agenda with North Korean officials when she visited Pyongyang in late October. The Japanese apparently used strong words with US officials, indicating that the Japan-US alliance would be damaged if the Clinton administration refused to raise the kidnapping issue. The Japanese daily Asahi Shimbun reported on October 8, 2000, that “Japan views that if the United States removes the DPRK from the [terrorism] list without paying attention to the abduction issue, it would mean the United States is taking Japan lightly.”

Niksch, 2002, p. 20

Albright did bring up the issue in her visit and in doing so helped solidify Japanese expectations that the US would support its position in the future. This perception was undoubtedly strengthened under the Bush administration. In February 2001, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Hubbard met with the Kazokukai and pledged continuing US support for their cause. This meeting sidestepped the Japanese Mori government, whom the Kazokukai felt had betrayed by after a 500,000 tonnes rice aid deal despite Mori Yoshiro’s personal promise that progress towards normalisation would not occur without progress on the abduction issue. Nakayama Masaaki, leader of Nitcho giren (Dietmen’s League for the Promotion of Japan-North Korea Friendship) and of a parliamentary group on the abduction issue, was furious at the Kazokukai’s independent move. (Johnson, E. (June 2004). The North Korea Abduction Issue and Its Effect on Japanese Domestic Politics. Japan Policy Research Institute) However, it was the start of a strong relationship between the Bush administration and the actors in the abduction issue, benefiting strongly from the close interpersonal relationship between Bush and Koizumi Jun’ichiro.

Japan’s involvement in post-war Iraq was inherently tied to both the strength of this personal relationship and Japan’s concerns over North Korea. ‘In February 2004, [Koizumi] declared that it was of overwhelming importance for Japan to show that it was a “trustworthy ally,” because (as he put it) if ever Japan were to come under attack it would be the US, not the UN or any other country, that would come to its aid’. (McCormack, G. (November 8 2004). Koizumi’s Japan in Bush’s World: After 9/11. Japan Focus) If any state was about to attack North Korea, it was North Korea. One Cabinet Office survey showed that 80% felt war with North Korea was likely. Japan was clearly frightened of abandonment by the US over North Korea. (Yakushiji, K. (April 5 2003). Japanese Foreign Policy in Light of the Iraq War. Japan Focus) However, Koizumi’s gamble appeared to pay off: “Bush declared his own “unconditional” support for the Japanese position on the families of the North Korean abductees. […] It was, as a senior [LDP] official admitted, a deal: Japanese forces to Iraq in exchange for US support for Japan’s position on North Korean issues. (McCormack, 2004)

For the US, the abduction issue offered yet more ammunition to pressure North Korea on its human rights issue. In 2006, Abe Shinzo helped tighten the US interest in the abduction issue (beneficially coinciding with a major documentary into the human drama of the issue: Abduction – The Megumi Yokota Story). (Hughes, C. W. (2006). The Political Economy of Japanese Sanctions towards North Korea: Domestic Coalitions and International Systemic Pressures. Pacific Affairs , 79 (3), 455-481: p. 473) In March, Ambassador Schieffer visited Niigata to be given a tour of Yokota Megumi’s final walk home. In a press conference after the tour, he stated ‘the United States would always raise the abduction issue whenever it talked to North Korea about anything’, and ‘that there can be no comprehensive resolution with North Korea without a solution to the abduction issue’. In April , Yokota Sakie (mother of Yokota Megumi and representative of the Kazokukai) and Shimada Yoichi (representative of the Sukuukai) travelled to the US to testify to Congress ahead of the North Korean Human Rights Act. Yokota also met with President Bush who called it ‘one of the most moving meetings’ of his presidency, an impression that has lasted.

Following North Korea’s July Taepodong-2 test, Abe’s rise to office, and the October nuclear test, the US appeared prepared to reaffirm its priorities: missiles and nukes first, everything else later. However, the US were still willing to allow Japan to pressure North Korea on the issue, as Japan was adopting an increasingly hardline under Abe. The human rights issue was a legitimate concern for the world and any pressure was good pressure. With this in mind, the EU submitted a draft resolution on North Korea’s human rights record to the UN General Assembly, co-sponsored by Japan and the US, the latter of whom had received some pressure to work to push the bill through by the Kazokukai in the form of a personal visit to Ambassador to the UN, John Bolton. Yet with the release of the 13 February 2007 Joint Statement, which offered a great deal of optimism in the Six-Party Talks, the US sought to pressure Abe to be more specific about just what progress entailed.

Japan’s stubbornness on the abduction issue threatens the worth of its role in the Six-Party Talks. After the negotiations on the release of funds from the Banco Delta Asia finally came to fruition, the US clearly didn’t want to squander this new found energy. Japan’s refusal to allow for bargaining room in the SPT has meant that it is inflexible. To their minds, the North Koreans have been rewarded enough for their bad behaviour. However, now “under the terms of the six-party deal on North Korea’s nuclear programs, the U.S. is committed to beginning the process of delisting the country [from the list of state sponsors of terrorism] as Pyongyang moves ahead with its denuclearization obligations“.

What does this mean? It means that Japan is facing the possibility of being abandoned and essentially betrayed by the US due to a disconnect in their national interests. It means that when push comes to shove, the US cannot be trusted to support Japan. While Bush deals with the question of his legacy, he seems willing to burn his bridges with those that he had seemed so supportive of before. A storm is brewing, and how much damage will occur is anybody’s guess. It may be the clearest test of the popular and political importance of the abduction issue in Japan we can ever see.

I touched upon this in my previous post, but I want to expand on the issue of the abduction issue acting as justification for a more active Japanese security policy.

In the event of a North Korean nuclear attack, incredible numbers of the Japanese populace will no doubt perish. But it is still only a potential tragedy and is yet to overly worry ordinary Japanese citizens. […] For them, nuclear weapon development by North Korea is more or less a technical, abstract topic. The Japanese public is, however, strongly sympathetic [on the abduction issue] because the abductees are no different from the average Japanese who has neither a strong affiliation with any political organizations nor close relations with North Korea.

Nakatsuji, K. (2004). Prime Minister in Command: Koizumi and the Abduction Question. Korea Review of International Studies , 7 (1), 35-46: p. 36.

This quote, to me, is the ultimate expression of the role of the abduction issue: giving an abstract risk a human face. It is, as Lynn Hyung-gu describes in ‘Vicarious Traumas: Television and Public Opinion in Japan’s North Korea Policy’ (Pacific Affairs, 79 (3), 2006, Fall), a national trauma, a narrative of drama highlighting the victimhood of the Japanese nation. It was unjustifiable and abhorrent for North Korea to snatch these young (and in some cases, not so young) men and women from their families, friends, lives and countries. No-one can argue that fact. It makes North Korea seem practically criminal, a reasonable assumption.

A gander at the Cabinet Office surveys on issues of foreign affairs demonstrates the popular appeal of the abduction issue when compared to the more ‘abstract’ missile and nuclear issues. In the surveys, Japanese citizens are asked to state the issues which concern them regarding a range of areas, however the one of interest right now is obviously responses regarding North Korea. I have compiled the responses from 2000 to 2007 (minus the missing data from 2001) to demonstrate the appeal of the abduction issue when compared to the nuclear and missile issues. Please click on the thumbnail to view the chart.

The abduction is shown to figure strongly in the Japanese mindset. The nuclear issue is shown to be rising after the second nuclear crisis in 2000 and the political fallout at the start of the Bush administration’s tenure in the United States and the tougher line held by then-newly elected Koizumi. In 2006, respondents polled in the same month as the North Korean nuclear test and a couple of months after the Taepodong-2 test still more frequently listed the abduction issue (86.7%) as a concern when compared to the nuclear issue (79.5%). The missile issue also figures strongly (the three issues dominate the list of issues, consistently in top three except for in 2000 where the nuclear issue had yet to fully emerge). However, the chart does not show the priorities of the respondents, i.e. which they are more concerned by.

The Japanese populace is saturated with knowledge of the abduction issue, a human drama that tugs at ones heartstrings. It got that way due to the tireless campaigns of the Kazokukai (Association of the Families of Victims Kidnapped by North Korea [AFVKN]) and Sukuukai (National Association for the Rescue of Japanese Kidnapped by North Korea [NARKN]) and the spectacle of Koizumi’s visit to Pyongyang in 2002 which resulted in the return of Soga Hitomi, the Hasuikes and Chimuras. It was at the Pyongyang Summit that one man positioned himself at the heart of the issue: Abe Shinzo. He won the adoration of the families for suggesting that Koizumi not to sign the Pyongyang Declaration, insisting that the Prime Minister extract an apology from Kim Jong-il and subsequently not return the surviving abductees to a fate in North Korea (Edström, B. (2007). The Success of a Successor: Abe Shinzo and Japan’s Foreign Policy. Silk Road Studies Program. Washington, DC/Uppsala, Sweden: Central Asia-Caucasus Institute, p. 8 / Pilling, D. (2006, September 16-17). The son also rises. Financial Times Weekend , pp. W1-W2.).

Abe shaped the growth of the issue, helping to globalise the appeal of the civil society movement. His support for the issue was a crucial part of his rise to the position of Chief Cabinet Secretary and then to the Prime Minister’s office. His short-lived tenure as Prime Minister started off with a flurry of activity regarding the abduction issue: he invited the Kazokukai to his office (something Koizumi had never done, preferring to keep them at arm’s length) and then created a cabinet-level body called the Headquarters of the Abduction Issue, consisting of the entire cabinet and headed by himself (why this was institutionalised is uncertain, presumably it could have just remained as a recurring feature of cabinet meetings). Furthermore, the nuclear test allowed Abe to stretch some economic muscle and impose sanctions on North Korea, something that he and the families had been calling for for a long time.

Abe was also part of a loose group of LDP Diet members that were more willing to move towards what Abe termed ‘a beautiful country’ (utsukushii kuni). Central to this was the instilling of patriotic pride and the return of Japan to being a ‘normal’ country (i.e. revision/removal of Article 9 of the so-called ‘Peace Constitution’). Like those of his ilk, and perhaps sensibly, Abe has been said to have an ‘inherent suspicion of China‘. Despite the moderation with which he treated China during his time as Prime Minister, it is this suspicion that causes problems.

As Christopher Hughes wrote in a paper presented at a conference in Swansea (The Domestic and International Dimensions of Security on the Korean Peninsula), there are a number of layers to the threat posed by North Korea. Certainly, there is the ‘existential military threat’ posed by North Korea’s increasing missile and nuclear arms, but also there is the ‘domestic security threat’ that breeds mistrust of the zainichi chosenjin (North Korean residents in Japan), the ‘alliance political-military threat’ which threatens the stability of the US-Japanese relationship (this is an issue I will cover in a later post), and finally, and crucial, the ‘pretext military threat’.

Hughes wrote that ‘North Korea has come to fill the position of serving as the prime public legitimisation for nearly all major changes in its security policy’. When those in power have a suspicion of rising China, it is thus probable that North Korea is being used as a pretext to prepare Japan for the probable strategic trajectory of collision with the rising power. It is often left publicly unsaid, but privately, it seems, concern regarding China’s rise runs rife. This is the context in which the abduction issue is manipulated.

The abduction issue is thus one of the justifications for using North Korea as a pretext to prepare for China. It produces energetic support, and so the issue is kept alive. Hope for the supposed dead or missing (depending on whose side you subscribe to) is kept alive. Considering that there has been no real progress since the ‘return’ of the abductee’s children to Japan in 2004, there has been a surprising amount of coverage of the issue.

The issue operates within a climate of insecurity. Continually pushing the abduction issue forwards incites outrage, while fear is generated and manipulated by the multiple other issues, namely the existential and domestic threats. Thus the abduction issue is not directly part of a politics of fear, but instead promotes the insecurities and fears surrounding the nuclear and missile issues by virtue of being linked to the same target. It colours the threat perception of the Japanese people making them predisposed to believing that North Korea is criminal or irrational, a threat by virtue of it being evil and willing to attempt anything. All the while, China hawks in the LDP are benefiting from the outcomes: an increased awareness of the need for defence, and the subsequent all-threat nature of procurements and policy changes.

As a result of the multi-layered North Korean threat, Japan seems more willing to increase its military power, in terms of both hardware and legislation. The MSDF and Air Self-Defence Force have gained more offensive capabilities, considering the purchase of Tomahawk cruise missiles and precision guided munitions, both of which could be used against a North Korean ballistic missile launch (Hughes, 2007). Meanwhile, Japan has boosted its intelligence capabilities, launching a series of optical and radar imagery satellites under the remit of the Cabinet Information and Research Office, increased intelligence activities in the Public Security Intelligence Agency, and greater integration of military intelligence under the Defence Intelligence Headquarters (Choi, S.-J. (2004). The North Korean factor in the improvement of Japanese intelligence capability. The Pacific Review, 17 (3), 369-397). Each move is dual-use, as open to use against North Korea as against China, and ultimately, that is the point.

The abduction issue has been (ab)used a security framing tool. It is linked to a range of bilateral issues by nature or design and these other issues benefit from the public’s outrage towards the abduction issue. The appeal of this to politicians is clear in the widespread concern expressed by the public in the Cabinet surveys. The abduction issue provides the means to act on North Korea’s nuclear threat through sanctions and military build-up. The abduction issue has become a tool of choice for pushing through regional security policies. It is a pretext and a frame that immediately lends a leader trust. One danger for the issue itself is its continuing use risks pushing the public towards apathy, but then again, memories seem to die hard in East Asia.

Notes: I admit, this is tenuous in places, but this is the point of my blogging here, I can refine and reshape my understanding of the issue according to my active research and thoughts. Furthermore, while writing this post I realised something that I had since forgotten from writing my dissertation: this is a politics of outrage too… So I have changed the subtitle of the blog accordingly.

The subtitle of this blog is: “North Korea, Japan and the Politics of Fear’ but what is the politics of fear?

Fear penetrates society. I may seem dramatic and unnecessarily general to say so, but fear is a, if not the, major moderator of social life. It keeps people in check. It moderates your driving, it conditions your social interactions, and it keeps you alive. Fear, in tandem with an appreciation of risk, is a social force unlike any other. Thus it is unsurprising that we find it thriving in politics.

Political fear fosters subservience. It is polarising, removing the middle ground from debate. Like a stampede of wildebeest, it brings a population’s thoughts into line. The palpable fear (or should that be anger?) of terrorism post-9/11 has created a climate in which, at least initially, populations were willing to cut back their civil liberties in order to make it more difficult for a handful of terrorists to infiltrate and operate within a country. No one would dare risk being a terrorist sympathiser.

Fear, to paraphrase, is the opiate of the masses. Those that can manipulate, or even generate, political fear stand to benefit enormously. A successful attempt to manipulate fear can generate wide-ranging political support that can allow a break from the traditional rules of political action (conceptually similar to Ole Waever’s securitisation theory). The identification of a convincing threat is all that is needed.

The benefits of political fear, to policymakers, can be seen in the rallying effect of war. During wartime, criticism of the broad political project of the war itself (although not necessarily its conduct) becomes taboo. The needs of the state supersede those of the citizenry and opposition is placed within a discourse of internal threat or fifth columnism . War elucidates the ‘other’ in sharp contrast to the ‘self’.

The war rally effect has long been recognised, just look at the Russo-Japanese War, initiated, in part at least, in order to placate and consolidate an uppity populace. Of course, when things go wrong the equation changes, cynicism and resistance take over. See, for instance, the Russian revolution and the anti-war protests of the 1960s/70s.

Cynicism, one might argue, is becoming more prevalent in our own age. We are strained with fear fatigue: the constant fluctuations of the terror alert systems once piqued our emotions, but now, having gone on for 6 years with no sign of reaching lower thresholds, we are comfortably numb.

The modern political party is tailored to the manipulation of fear: PR spin-doctoring makes the best (worst?) use of that most potent instrument of fear, the media, who propagate and editorialise their messages, openly or by stealth, by means designed to grab the attention of the average guy on the street. The days of a discreetly wheelchair-bound Roosevelt communicating by radio are long gone, ever since Nixon got sweaty while debating with Kennedy, the power of the media to make or break a politician has been clear. Today’s politician must have the image-consciousness of a supermodel, a far cry from the days of Churchill (“Madam, you are ugly. In the morning, I shall be sober.”)

Why is this worrying? Fear gives democracy the trappings of autocracy. However, unlike autocracy, the government of a fear-ridden democracy have far less control than the leadership of an autocratic state. A wannabe democratic-despot has to expend a lot of political energy and rhetoric in order to have their way. They must prey on our insecurities and manipulate our psychologies.

This, I argue, is what is under way in Japan. Issues regarding its relations with North Korea are surrounded by an atmosphere of fear (atmosfear?) that conditions political action. With the abduction issue in particular, no-one can seem be against efforts to return the Japanese citizens taken to North Korea (even if the remainder are probably dead), no less that no-one can seem to be for the rights of terrorists. Debate is weakened, and without debate, democracy is weakened allowing ideologies in. Under Abe Shinzo, who was pulling strings behind the issue from 2002, the issue was tacked onto an agenda of new conservatism, the ideology of the LDP’s Young (and not so young) Turks. His fever pitch approach was an abuse of the abduction issue and one of many examples of the (ab)use of fear in the issue that I will endeavour to explore within this forum.

Yomiuri picks up on the worries and sentiments of some of the groups covered in the original post:

Abe decision shocks those close to pet issues
The Yomiuri Shimbun
Sep. 13, 2007

Those connected to issues that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe devoted particular energy to, expressed shock at his sudden announcement Wednesday that he intended to resign.

Shigeo Iizuka, vice representative of the Association of Families of Victims Kidnapped by North Korea, said, “Abe was one of the country’s politicians who gave the most serious thought to the abduction issue and eagerly worked to resolve it.”

“It may cause serious problems for us if he really resigns. I hope we can find someone [new] who will prioritize the abduction issue,” he said.

Iizuka expressed hope Abe would stay in office for a while longer, adding: “He may be exhausted because he’s been under so much pressure. I believe it’s too early for him to resign.”

The group’s secretary general, Teruaki Masumoto, said: “I’m really surprised. I’m at a loss for words. But I want to properly respond to the situation.”

Shizuoka University of Art and Culture President Heita Kawakatsu, a member of the Education Rebuilding Council, regretted Abe’s announcement, saying discussion at the council was approaching a crucial stage.

“I thought he’d seek the judgment of the public after getting the Diet to pass [an extension of] the Antiterrorism Law. I’m not convinced about the timing of this,” Kawakatsu said.

With Aso as the front-runner, these groups may have some hope of maintaining their strength. The question, however, remains: What does Aso stand for?

CNN aired a special report into Abe’s resignation, which can be found below. It provides a good overview of the day’s events.

via The Yin-Yang Report

So, Abe finally tipped the king and resigned. I really thought he would hold out longer, but with possible health problems and the insane stress-levels, who can blame him?

Three questions are raised for me: Who will succeed him?, What does this mean for the abduction issue?, and What does this mean for the ‘new conservative’ agenda?*

(*)’New conservative’ was a term I used in my dissertation to describe Abe’s ilk without applying the much abused neo-con label.

Successor

Anything I say here will be a guess, but I can see possibly three candidates as of now (keep in mind that I’ve been out of the in-depth political news for a while): Aso Taro, Fukuda Yasuo, and Tanigaki Sadakazu. In fact, you’ll notice that my list is just the list from the previous LDP election, minus Abe, and with greater emphasis on Fukuda. The successor question will have a large effect on the outcomes of the other two questions.

Abduction Issue

The abduction issue appears to be being downplayed (in relative terms). I would hope that any successor to Abe can continue this trend, however, with someone as inclined towards populism as Aso might be, there is always danger of a resurgent abduction diplomacy. Either way, Japan’s basic stance towards North Korea will not undergo a significant shift at this stage: it will still refuse progress without the solution of bilateral issues. All that might change is Japan’s willingness to employ a carrot to its frequently used stick.

The ‘New Conservative’ Agenda

Clearly, regardless of Abe’s existence, there will be a hardcore section of the LDP which will share his dreams of patriotism and strength, although they may not faff around with flowery terms like ‘beautiful’. The question is really, how much strength will these proponents receive with the new successor. A like-minded individual, such as Aso Taro, is likely to maintain or increase their strength, whereas Fukuda or Tanigaki offer a less conservative nationalist outlook that might indeed weaken them.

Summary

The LDP are going to choose a new president, and ergo a new Prime Minister of Japan. Their choice will have wide-reaching implications. The abduction issue’s new turn could be reversed, and the agenda of patriotic history leading to future strength could go either way. We watch with baited breath.

An interesting, if a little dubious, editorial from The Japan Times:

Paranoid android Abe blind to reality when it comes to eye contact
By PHILIP BRASOR
Sunday, Aug. 26, 2007

Image and issues always compete for voters’ attention on the campaign trail, with the former usually winning. A successful candidate is the one who uses the media most effectively in shaping an image that’s acceptable to more people than the next candidate’s. Issues, on the other hand, have become more or less window dressing that give a general indication of a candidate’s ideological bias.

Media critic Yukichi Amano took this dynamic for granted in his analysis of last month’s Upper House election, which appeared in the Asahi Shimbun recently. Amano not only believes that the Liberal Democratic Party lost because of image problems – an assertion few people would deny given all the scandals the LDP has suffered through recently – but pins the reason for the loss on Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s use of eye contact.

Since taking office last September, Abe has continued the daily, casual press conferences started by his predecessor Junichiro Koizumi. Amano believes this is a good idea but it’s only effective if you understand how TV works. Unlike Koizumi, who proved himself a master at media manipulation, Abe has no clue as to how unflattering TV can be.

One of his main problems is his use of language. The prime minister has no knack for the colloquial and often says things that go over the heads of most citizens. Where Koizumi immediately got his point across when he said that one of his goals was to “kill off the old LDP,” Abe expressed the same idea by saying he wants to “escape from the postwar regime.”

But the real problem is sincerity, or, at least, the illusion of sincerity. “Sometimes the face reveals more than words,” Amano writes, and Abe’s real problem was his decision to address the camera directly when answering reporters’ questions. “When someone asks you something,” Amano says, “you should look at that person when you answer. Not to do so is considered bad manners.”

Amano isn’t the first media person to find fault with Abe’s mesen (eye contact) policy. The prime minister’s reasoning is that he wants to talk directly to the people during press conferences, but the unnaturalness of his gaze has the effect of making everything he says sound insincere and meaningless. Koizumi also rarely said anything of substance, but he looked at the reporters who asked him the questions, thus making it seem as if he meant what he said. Abe says insubstantial things that sound insubstantial.

And because Abe is less confident in his abilities than Koizumi was, he is more likely to buckle under criticism. When pundits started questioning his mesen strategy, he stubbornly refused to abandon it. Instead, he tried to make his facial expression more forceful, which had the singular effect of making it look as if he didn’t even know the reporters were there – as if he were answering questions in his head. During one casual press conference back in the spring, reporters asked Abe directly if he didn’t think his mesen strategy was “strange,” and, without missing a beat or taking his eye off the camera, Abe said, “Rather than answering to you, I intend to talk to the people.” Monty Python couldn’t have come up with a funnier dig at political vacuousness.

Since the election, Abe has only compounded the problem by trying to modify the practice without seeming to modify it. According to an Aug. 12 article in the Tokyo Shimbun, Abe has “returned to zero” in his strategy of dealing with the press. But his effort to act as normal as possible is transparent. He looks at reporters now, but can’t resist glancing up at the camera. The effect is even more distracting than it was before. With his eyes wandering all over the place, Abe appears not only indecisive but paranoid.

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!

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