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Editorial: Abduction issue should be resolved at Japan-DPRK summit by leveraging on Japan-U.S. partnership

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe expressed a willingness to hold a summit with North Korea’s Workers Party of Korea Chairman Kim Jong Un. It is difficult to address the abduction issue without holding direct dialogue, but he must act carefully not to play into the hands of the North Korean leader by easily showing a reconciliatory approach. Japan needs to strengthen the Japan-U.S. partnership confirmed during his latest meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump and come up with a firm strategy not to allow the North to make excuses.

 

President Trump did not mention human rights when he met with Kim Young Chol, vice chairman of North Korea’s Workers’ Party of Korea. Nonetheless he noted that he “does not want to use the term ‘maximum pressure.’” This gave rise to concerns within Japan that the “abduction issue may be left behind.”

 

At a press conference held after the Japan-U.S. summit, President Trump clearly stated that “the abduction issue will be placed on the discussion table (during the U.S.-North Korea summit).” In this sense, Prime Minister Abe’s visit to Washington probably proved successful.

 

But the White House does not necessarily stay united on its policy toward North Korea. Speculation is rife that National Security Advisor John Bolton, who plays hardball with North Korea, has been left out of the decision-making loop.

 

At the press conference, President Trump also noted that “I am looking to normalize U.S. ties with the North.” With the midterm congressional election scheduled to take place in autumn, he probably wants to make his mark in his foreign policy. The impression cannot be removed that he is going inclined to clinch a deal.

 

The “abduction, nuclear and missile” issues are too grave for Japan to overlook. This should be conveyed to President Trump and echoed to the international community via such channels as the G7 meeting (Charlevoix G7 Summit).

 

How should the abduction issue be resolved? Discussions within Japan will become necessary as well. The government has long been demanding that all abductees be brought back home as well as that those responsible for the kidnappings be punished and that abductors be extradited to Japan. Considerable amounts of time have been passed since the abduction. There is also a generational change in North Korea’s leadership. Because of these factors, it is becoming difficult to resolve the issue.

 

With regards to the abduction issue, Prime Minister Abe noted that “I know I must resolve this with Chairman Kim in the end.” He is not seeking to resolve the issue through North Korea’s regime collapse, but aiming to resolve it via dialogue with the existing regime.

 

If that is the case, it would be appropriate for Japan to return to the Pyongyang declaration, which was signed by then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and North Korea’s General Secretary Kim Jong Il in 2002. While Japan demands the North resolve the abduction issue, it must squarely face reparations for its colonial rule. It will be become difficult to sit at the table of discussions if one side unilaterally condemns the other.

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