Does Japan have to rely on the U.S. to resolve the abduction issue?
“We know it kidnapped a sweet 13-year-old Japanese girl from a beach in her own country to enslave her as a language tutor for North Korea’s spies,” U.S. President Donald Trump said by way of criticizing North Korea during his first address to the UN General Assembly on Sept. 19 in reference to Pyongyang’s abduction of Megumi Yokota 40 years ago.
On Sept. 17, two days before the president’s UN address, the Association of Families of Victims Kidnapped by North Korea (AFVKN) and the National Association for the Rescue of Japanese Kidnapped by North Korea (NARKN) hosted a “national meeting” on the abduction issue at the Sabo Kaikan Annex in Nagatacho, Tokyo. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told participants, “I will serve as a control tower in resolving the abduction issue and urge North Korea to make a decision for an early settlement of the issue by applying pressure in response to the nation’s provocations.
Megumi’s parents, Shigeru and Sakie Yokota, did not attend the meeting for reasons of health. But Sakie told her daughter in a video message, “[Your parents] are working hard on rescuing you with the help of everyone. I think it will only take a little bit longer. Please hang in there.”
On the morning of Sept. 28, the day when the Lower House was dissolved, Abe met with the families of abductees who belong to the AFVKN.
Tsutomu Nishioka, a visiting professor at Reitaku University who serves as the NARKN’s chairman, recalls the meeting. “Prime Minister Abe said President Trump’s UN address was significant in two respects. One is that the president mentioned the abductions of Japanese nationals during a speech closely watched by the international community. The other is that the abduction issue will have significance in U.S. policies. We felt a strong sense of crisis that the abduction issue would be forgotten in the wake of the nuclear and missile threats. But we can expect the abduction issue to be resolved thanks to President Trump’s raising the issue.”
The U.S. President is scheduled to meet with Megumi’s parents during his visit to Japan in early November. But does that mean the Japanese government is undependable after all?
Authorities who do not act
Nishioka began to be involved in the abduction issue in 1991. He became the first Japanese scholar to write on the issue for a monthly magazine. He recalls, “It was a year after then-Deputy Prime Minister Shin Kanemaru and others visited North Korea and Japan and North Korea were working toward normalizing diplomatic ties. I wrote the article as a researcher with the sole purpose of stopping Japan from entering diplomatic relations with North Korea without resolving the abduction issue despite the Japanese government’s acknowledgement of abductions during the speech of Kajiyama Seiroku, then chairman of the National Public Safety Commission, in 1988. Oddly enough, I was asked by senior officials of the Public Security Investigation Agency and many others whether I feared for my own safety.”
Nishioka says that he was astonished by the words of the officials of the government agency responsible for settling the abduction issue but that he hid his surprise.
In 1996, Gendai Korea [Modern Korea], a magazine that covers the situation on the Korean Peninsula for which Nishioka served as chief editor, learned that a 13-year-old girl was kidnapped by North Korea. It later turned out, based on the circumstances surrounding her disappearance, that the girl could be Megumi Yokota. Nishioka mentioned the story when he gave a speech in Niigata Prefecture.
Megumi’s parents and others wondered whether they should reveal their and the abductees’ names and appeal to public opinion. But experts and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) advised them coldly that they might be killed [by North Korea] to get rid of evidence if they revealed their names. But in hindsight, the experts and the MOFA officials might have had reasons for not acting. Abductees’ families believed that the government would negotiate with North Korea behind closed doors. But no progress had been made in the issue. So Shigeru Yokota decided to appeal to public opinion.
Meanwhile, Sakie had often isolated herself in her room with a map since her daughter’s disappearance. She was overcome with sorrow, asking, “Is she at the bottom of this ocean? Is she buried on this mountain?” She initially opposed to the idea of appealing to public opinion, saying, “It’s unbearable to put my daughter in danger.” But the mother eventually agreed with her husband.
Nishioka says, “The Japanese government at that time did nothing for us. As an expert, I couldn’t keep mum, just watching the families of the abductees, who had trusted the Japanese people and decided to appeal to public opinion.”
The AFVKN and the NARKN were established soon afterwards and they have been making the case that “abduction is terrorism and terrorism is a global enemy.” The two organizations share a policy of putting pressure on North Korea even if it carries risk.
Now is the opportunity as DPRK’s foreign currency reserves run dry
Funding for the North Korean regime via the “Korean Workers’ Party’s Office 39,” a North Korean organization responsible for obtaining foreign currency, is running dry. Nishioka sees the current situation as an opportunity to rescue all abductees. “North Korea compromises only when its foreign currency runs out and a strong military pressure is applied. Then it deceives.”
There were two such cases in the past. The first case was in 1994, but no progress was made in the abduction issue. The second case happened in 2002. The U.S. knew that North Korea was continuing nuclear development, and President George W. Bush criticized North Korea as part of the “axis of evil” along with Iran and Iraq during the State of the Union Address in January.
Nishioka says, “North Korean leader Kim Jong Il was frightened by the U.S. president’s ‘axis of evil’ speech and invited Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi to Pyongyang. It led to the return of five of the abductees to Japan. But North Korea provided Japan with fake information on the whereabouts of abductees on just two sheets of paper, saying, ‘Eight are dead and four did not enter North Korea.’ The failure is attributable to the Japanese government, which only focused on normalizing relations with North Korea and did not engage in prior consultation with the U.S. It was a failure of Hitoshi Tanaka, director general of the MOFA’s Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau.”
Tanaka underestimated North Korea.
He made a huge blunder in the abduction issue. But he appears in the media, grating on nerves of families of abductees.
With relations between Washington and Pyongyang being fraught with tension, now is the third chance following 1994 and 2002.
North Korea’s rapidly developing nuclear and missile technologies in fact partially came from Japan. Japan’s nuclear technology is at a level capable of developing nuclear weapons and it can divert rocket technology to missiles.
In the “restrictions on movement of persons,” the Japanese government’s independent sanction on North Korea put in place in February last year, Japan expanded the ban on the re-entry of senior officials of the General Association of Korean Residents to Japan returning from North Korea. It also newly added “a ban on the re-entry of foreign experts on nuclear and missile technology residing in Japan with an aim to go to North Korea.”
Nishioka has been accusing five North Korean nuclear and missile technology engineers living in Japan by their real names after independently obtaining the list of people banned from re-entering into Japan. They are So Sok Hong [sp?], So Pan Do [sp?], Pyeon Cheolho [sp?], Li Yong Tok [sp?], and Yang Tok Cha [sp?]. So Sok Hong and So Pan Do are engine experts who once worked for the Institute of Industrial Science at the University of Tokyo and established “Kumgang Engine J.V. Co.” in North Korea, with So Sok Hong serving as president and So Pan Do as vice president. The company reportedly developed missile engines. Pyeon Cheolho studied nuclear power at Kyoto University and is currently working as associate professor at Kyoto University Research Reactor Institute. In December last year, Li Si Gu [sp?] was added to the no re-entry list, making the total number of nuclear and missile technology engineers banned from re-entering Japan to six.
It is rumored that the U.S. will “strike North Korea” following the nuclear and missile threats posed by the rogue nation. And the NARKN is trying to “rescue all abductees within the year.” The two issues have entered the final stages.