U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken chose Japan as his first foreign visit and then went on to South Korea. Next, Secretary Blinken met with Yang Jiechi, a member of the Chinese Communist Party’s Politburo, and China State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Alaska.
What caught our attention during this Asian diplomatic tour was that Secretary Blinken was wearing a “blue ribbon” on his lapel during the Japan-U.S. Security Consultative Committee (2 plus 2) meeting.
The blue ribbon is derived from the blue of the Sea of Japan and of the sky, symbolizing the will of the Japanese abductees and their families to be reunited, as only the sea and the sky lie between Japan and North Korea, which do not share a land border.
According to the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo, Mr. Blinken wore the blue ribbon on his lapel the entire time he was in Tokyo.
Prior to the Secretary’s visit to Japan, Sakie Yokota, the mother of abductee Megumi, and her younger brother, Takuya, met with Chargé d’Affaires ad interim Joseph M. Young and gave him a letter. “I was moved,” said Secretary Blinken after reading the letter. “I feel a strong solidarity with the Japanese people.”
Japan needs to resolve the abduction issue on its own, but it is significant that the U.S., Japan’s ally, has shown such understanding of the issue over the years. After the Bush administration put pressure on North Korea by designating it an “axis of evil,” then-Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi visited the DPRK and this led to the return of five of the abductees. Former President Donald Trump also referred to the abduction issue during the U.S.-North Korea summit.
The Yokota family’s letter to Mr. Blinken also pointed out that “North Korea will only come to the negotiating table when strong pressure is applied,” thus urging the Biden administration “not to ease sanctions until all the abductees are returned home.” The cooperation of the U.S. is essential for the international community to exert pressure on North Korea. Strengthening the alliance is the path to a solution of the abduction issue.
There is one development that concerns us, however.
“We have to take action!” said Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai of the Liberal Democratic Party during a recent meeting of the board members of the parliamentarians’ league for the normalization of Japan-DPRK ties. “We should consider, for example, a visit to North Korea with the cooperation of all political parties, because simply saying the ‘abduction issue is important’ does not convey our message to North Korea.”
It is very good for the ruling and opposition parties to engage in earnest discussion of the abduction issue, but the group’s visit to North Korea must not lead to “dual-track diplomacy.” Needless to say, Japan should not send a message implying that the normalization of diplomatic relations is a higher priority than the abduction issue.
Confusion in the negotiations will only make resolution of the issue harder to achieve.