Shigeru Yokota passed away last week at the age of 87 without reuniting with his daughter, Megumi, one of the 17 known Japanese nationals abducted by North Korean agents 43 years ago.
Yokota devoted the latter part of his life to the movement to rescue Megumi, believing her to still be alive. She disappeared at age 13 on the way home from school in November 1977. Her father’s death once again shines a light on the cruelty of the abductions.
Pyongyang had insisted at a 2002 bilateral summit that Megumi and seven other Japanese victims had already died. But for Yokota, the North Korean investigation and report lacked credibility.
“The fight has only begun,” Yokota said in a strained voice that day. He ultimately gave more than 1,400 lectures on the subject.
Five abductees repatriated in 2002 were the last to return to Japan alive. Surviving victims and family members are only growing older. The Japanese government has identified 17 nationals as having been abducted in the 1970s and 1980s. Now, only two of the abductees’ parents are alive. One is Megumi’s mother, Sakie Yokota. The other is Akihiro Arimoto, whose daughter Keiko was kidnapped in 1983 at the age of 23.
It goes without saying that North Korea must take measures to bring closure to the abductions in a way that Japan can accept. Yet the regime in Pyongyang, claiming the issue to have already been resolved, prioritizes negotiations with the U.S. to reach a nuclear deal and to obtain a guarantee for its own survival.
Between Tokyo and Pyongyang, the bilateral environment surrounding the abductions is increasingly grim.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said he was “heartbroken” over Yokota’s death. He has been involved in the abductions issue since his younger days. Since taking the top job, he has repeatedly expressed a determination to close the book on the problem. And the abductees’ families have held high hopes.
Yet despite serving a combined more than eight years as prime minister, Abe has failed to deliver tangible results. That is regrettable.
Friday marks two years since U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un met in Singapore for their historic summit.
The Japanese government, which has pushed for a comprehensive solution to the abduction issue, the nuclear program and the missile program, should ramp up efforts to ensure that the U.S. and North Korea do not close their line of dialogue.
At the same time, Tokyo must endeavor to find an opportunity to hold a face-to-face meeting between Abe and Kim. Abe proposed in May 2019 a leaders’ summit without conditions. Realizing such a meeting will require a proactive and meticulous strategy.
Results are said to be everything in diplomacy. Relatives of the victims want immediate government action to end their decades of pain. It is time for the nation’s leaders to once more take the pleas of the families to heart.