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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.

Just proving that you cannot escape the political expediency of an appeal to a broader discourse:

LDP’s Nakatani calls foes of MSDF mission ‘terrorists’
Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2007
Kyodo News

Gen Nakatani, head of the Liberal Democratic Party’s panel on security policy, has enraged the opposition camp by calling opponents of the Indian Ocean refueling mission “terrorists.”

“Only terrorists would oppose (the mission),” Nakatani, chairman of the LDP Research Commission on Security, said Sunday on a Fuji TV talk show.

Maritime Self-Defense Force ships in the Indian Ocean are currently refueling ships of countries taking part in antiterrorism operations in and around Afghanistan, based on a special law that expires Nov. 1.

“Given that about 30 percent of the public is opposed to the refueling activities, it means three in 10 Japanese are terrorists, ” Democratic Party of Japan Secretary General Yukio Hatoyama said at a news conference. “It’s outrageous that such horrendous remarks were made before TV cameras. It’s no joke.”

Nakatani’s remarks even drew criticism Monday from Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda.

“Even if he was speaking metaphorically . . . I think it was not really appropriate wording,” Fukuda said during a session of the House of Councilors Budget Committee.

Pretty inflammatory, huh?

It’s a tactic we’ve seen used to self-defeating effects in the US and throughout the world. Perhaps in an age of patriotic fever, such as the immediate post-9/11 political climate in the US, then one can get away with such nonsense. However, in Japan, where the constitutionality of Indian Ocean mission has always been debatable, such talk is surely a sign of frustration.

Gen Nakatani

Gen Nakatani was an officer of the GSDF (serving April 1980-December 1984) and became secretary to the Director-General of the Defense Agency, Koichi Kato, in 1985. Throughout his career, Nakatani has had strong links to the defence establishment and since April 2001 (that is, since the start of Koizumi’s leadership) he has been the man at the head of Japan’s said establishment.

Perhaps with such credentials, it is likely that he has a lot at stake in the mission both in terms of his past and future.

Regardless, there is no call for such a blatant use of inflammatory labels. Nakatani is engaging in a politics of fear as characterised by a ‘There is No Alternative’ (TINA) perspective (see Furedi, ‘Politics of Fear: Beyond Left and Right’). TINA closes down the space for debate. No-one wants to be a terrorist (even terrorists would seem to prefer the ‘freedom fighter’ label), so an effective use of this appeal to the terrorist discourse would close off the space for opposition to the subject at hand.

Unfortunately for Nakatani, his speech act (the process of stating something to make it so) was utterly disastrous and incredible. He has done no favours for his party nor himself and Fukuda was right to criticise Nakatani. Such labels had been previously applied to the North Korean threat without much criticism (see Leheny, Think Global Fear Local), but it is one thing to label a foreigner a terrorist, and quite another to apply the same label to a portion of the population and its political representatives. A career politician such as Nakatani should know better.

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.

The race is now on, and it is between Fukuda and Aso, with Fukuda ahead. Both candidates put forward their views on Japanese international relations, and it is worth a read:

Aso, Fukuda agree on refueling mission, but differ on N Korea, Yasukuni
Saturday, September 15, 2007 at 17:25 EDT
Kyodo News

TOKYO – Former Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda and Liberal Democratic Party Secretary General Taro Aso clashed over issues surrounding North Korea and Tokyo’s war-related Yasukuni Shrine as they kicked off a dove-versus-hawk duel Saturday for the Sept 23 party presidency election to succeed Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

But Fukuda and Aso offered little differences in their policy platforms over other issues in a joint news conference, with both agreeing on the need to extend an antiterrorism refueling mission in the Indian Ocean and vowing to continue the course of structural reforms albeit with policy adjustments where necessary to revive local economies.

The ruling LDP’s election appears to be a done deal with Fukuda as the winner having already garnered widespread factional support to succeed Abe, 52, who on Wednesday abruptly announced his intention to step down and was subsequently hospitalized.

On Japan’s position on North Korea, especially in dealing with the unresolved abductions of Japanese nationals, Fukuda called for a flexible stance while maintaining the “dialogue and pressure” approach to resolve the issue.

“We must devise some means to convey to the other side our desire and readiness to conduct negotiations,” Fukuda, 71, said at the joint press conference held after the two officially filed candidacies at the LDP headquarters in Tokyo.

But Aso, who was foreign minister under both administrations of Abe and his predecessor Junichiro Koizumi, defended the pressure-oriented approach as the correct way and that it has achieved results.

“The abductions were the extreme of inhumanity,” said Aso, who shares many of Abe’s hawkish and conservative views. “We have learnt from experience that we won’t get to negotiations without pressure.”

On Yasukuni, which enshrines 14 Class-A war criminals along with the war dead, Fukuda said he wants to realize the plan to build a secular national memorial facility to commemorate the war dead.

Fukuda, who has been pursuing the plan since 2002 when he was chief Cabinet secretary, said earlier on Saturday when announcing his candidacy that he will not go to the controversial Shinto shrine to avoid upsetting Asian neighbors that suffered from Japanese wartime aggressions.

Meanwhile, Aso stressed that even if a new memorial facility is built, it would not be a replacement for Yasukuni. But he did not make clear whether he will visit the shrine.

On other issues, however, the two shared similar views. Both vowed to rebuild public trust in the party and to create a society where Japan’s graying population can live at ease, in an apparent reference to growing concerns over the sustainability of the public pension system and the possibility of a consumption tax hike.

Both candidates said they will seek to extend the Maritime Self-Defense Force’s refueling mission to support U.S.-led antiterrorism operations in and around Afghanistan.

Fukuda said he intends to consult closely with the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan and others to convince them to agree to the extension.

Aso said he will pursue a new law or other options to continue the mission beyond the Nov 1 legal deadline, noting that simply seeking an extension of the current special antiterrorism law is “quite” difficult due to strong rejection by the opposition side.

The refusal by the DPJ, which overtook the LDP as the largest party in the House of Councillors in the July 29 election, to agree to the extension was one of main reasons cited by Abe in his sudden resignation announcement. The opposition camp can delay the passage of legislation with its DPJ-led majority in the upper house.

Whoever wins will face the daunting task of steering the party through the current political deadlock with the DPJ-led opposition camp, including the imminent showdown in parliament over legislation to extend the refueling mission.

Fukuda has gained support by many LDP members in all nine factions except a small one led by Aso, 66. Public opinion in a recent Kyodo News poll also favored Fukuda 28.1% to 18.7% for Aso.

Another key issue in the LDP election will be how to shore up the party base after the devastating setback in the July election where the ruling coalition of the LDP and New Komeito party lost its upper house majority.

Earlier in the morning, Fukuda said in officially announcing his candidacy, “The current circumstances were certainly unexpected…After listening to the recommendations by many who supported my running in the race and the ensuing encouragement, I felt strongly that I must shoulder the responsibility to face this difficult situation.”

Fukuda repeatedly said he plans to seek talks with the DPJ, including its leader Ichiro Ozawa, to gain cooperation in parliamentary affairs. He was most notably referring to the refueling mission’s extension and the opposition’s demand for a snap election in the lower house.

Aso announced his candidacy Friday, criticizing the overwhelming factional support for Fukuda as backroom dealing by the other faction leaders and a “regression to old LDP politics, but vowing to “fight fairly and squarely till the end” despite being in a disadvantaged position.

Aso indicated he aims to campaign for the support of those unaffiliated with any factions, as well as the party rank and file.

The winner is assured of Japan’s premiership as the LDP controls the country’s lower house, which has final say in appointing the prime minister. The new party leader’s term will last until September 2009.

Both Fukuda and Aso come from famous political families – the former a son of former Prime Minister Takeo Fukuda and the latter a grandson of former Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida.

Both held key posts under Abe’s predecessor Koizumi, with Fukuda as chief Cabinet secretary and Aso as foreign minister. But their political ideologies differ in some fields.

The dovish Fukuda favors promoting amicable relations with neighboring countries, while the hawkish Aso is known for his conservative views and controversial remarks that have angered China.

Fukuda and Aso are scheduled to hold a policy debate at LDP headquarters and street campaigns in Tokyo on Sunday. They will campaign in Osaka and Takamatsu in western Japan on Monday, a national holiday, and in the northeastern city of Sendai next Saturday.

Voting will begin at 2 p.m. Sept 23, with the 387 eligible LDP lawmakers each given one ballot and the 47 prefectural chapters given three each to reflect the choices of rank-and-file members.

Fukuda YasuoFukuda is one of the LDP’s old guard. He was Chief Cabinet Secretary to Koizumi and is in large part responsible for the diplomacy that led to the Pyongyang Summit in 2002. With North Korea, he favours the ‘pressure and dialogue’ track which can be attributed to Keizo Obuchi in 1998. This places him resolutely outside the nationalist conservative camp, aligning him closer to Koizumi (who effectively used both aspects of diplomacy while in office). Fukuda has the statesmanship that Abe lacked, a Woodrow Wilson to Abe’s George W. Bush. If Fukuda can take office, then the LDP has rejected the Abe’s Young Turks.

Abe appears to have been a necessary evil, however. He pushed through the normalisation of the Defence Agency to a ministry, and tipped the balance on North Korea so that they will be grateful to see a new face in office. It has often been said that Abe was Koizumi’s ‘bad cop’ at the Pyongyang Summit. I would take this further and suggest that he was the ‘bad cop-PM’ to whatever more moderate leader follows.

I recall the NBR Japan Forum debating this very issue (although with relation to taxes) as the reason that Fukuda withdrew his candidacy last year. Abe was to be a temporary hard-liner who would get the dirty jobs of reassembling the LDP and implements tough policies so that the air would be cleared for a longer-term minister. Perhaps then, we should not underestimate the back-room management of the LDP. If such machinations are at work, then it only goes to show one thing: Japan is going through some interesting times.