Academic journal article North Korean Review

Japanese-North Korean Relations after the Second Pyongyang Summit of 2004

Academic journal article North Korean Review

Japanese-North Korean Relations after the Second Pyongyang Summit of 2004

Article excerpt

The Second Pyongyang Summit

At the first Japanese-North Korean summit meeting in Pyongyang on September 17, 2002, Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi Junichiro and North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il were able to reach agreements on a number of thorny issues which had constituted stumbling blocks in normalizing their relations. Regarding the question of Japan's compensation to North Korea for the suffering inflicted on Koreans during Japan's colonial rule, Pyongyang agreed to accept Tokyo's offer of economic assistance instead of demanding "reparations" as it had insisted previously. Another major issue in Japanese-North Korean normalization talks from 1991 to 2000 was the suspected abduction of a dozen Japanese nationals by North Korea from the late 1970s to the early 1980s; the purpose was apparently to utilize them as language instructors for training North Korean special agents. As the Japanese national police had collected substantial evidence concerning at least 11 such abductions, Tokyo demanded not only information concerning their whereabouts but also their repatriation to Japan. However, Pyongyang flatly denied any knowledge about these abductions until the summer of 2002. At the Pyongyang summit, Kim reversed Pyongyang's previous position of denial and acknowledged North Korea's responsibility for abducting thirteen Japanese nationals and offered an apology, pledging not to repeat such mistakes. According to Kim, out of thirteen, eight had died, while five were still alive. Regarding the nuclear weapons issue, Kim promised to comply with all international agreements. In addition, Kim also promised to extend Pyongyang's self-imposed moratorium on missile testing beyond 2003. When the Pyongyang Declaration (signed jointly by Koizumi and Kim) incorporating these agreements was announced, many reacted with optimism that Japan and North Korea would be able to normalize diplomatic relations quickly. However, such was not to be the case.

Rather, Tokyo-Pyongyang normalization talks were stalemated shortly thereafter, largely due to the revelation of North Korea's secret uranium-based (HEU) nuclear weapons program in October 2002 and the backlash in Japanese public opinion on the abduction issue. North Korea refused to comply with Koizumi's persistent demand to abandon its nuclear weapons program by complying fully with international agreements, including the Pyongyang Declaration of 2002. The Japanese were also enraged by Kim's confession on the abduction of Japanese nationals, especially the shocking news of the death of the eight abductees while in North Korea's custody. As Pyongyang's explanations for the causes of these deaths aroused much suspicion about the credibility of Pyongyang's report,2 many Japanese demanded an accurate and convincing explanation for the circumstances surrounding the death of these abductees.

Although Pyongyang returned five surviving Japanese abductees to Japan in October 2002, it was not until the summer of 2004 that Pyongyang agreed to send the family members of these repatriated abductees to Japan for a family reunion. In the meantime, the highly emotional abduction issue was quickly seized upon by Japanese right-wing elements which opposed the normalization of diplomatic relations with North Korea. They maintained that the Pyongyang regime was already posing a serious security threat to Japan with its weapons of mass destruction (WMD). They could not see any justifiable reason for Japan to prop up the communist regime by providing massive economic assistance. Since many nationalistic Japanese shared these views, it was difficult for the Koizumi government to compromise on the abduction issue to normalize Japanese-North Korean relations in spite of Koizumi's professed intention to achieve that goal before stepping down from office in 2006.

In an attempt to resolve the outstanding issues in Japanese-North Korean relations, Koizumi decided to visit Pyongyang again on May 22, 2004. …

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