Academic journal article North Korean Review

Abduction: Japan's Blunders in Negotiations with North Korea

Academic journal article North Korean Review

Abduction: Japan's Blunders in Negotiations with North Korea

Article excerpt


The North Korean abductions of Japanese citizens from Japan by agents of the North Korean government happened during a period of six years from 1977 to 1983. Although only 16 (eight men and eight women) are officially recognized by the JapaThe nese government, there may have been as many as 70 to 80 Japanese abducted. Analysts believe that some victims were abducted to teach the Japanese language and culture at North Korean spy schools, while other victims were also abducted with the intent of stealing their identities.

The abduction of Japanese citizens by the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), or North Korea, can be distinguished from other foreign policy issues that Japan faces for the following two reasons. First, this is a rare-probably the only- major diplomatic issue in which Japan is a victim of an egregious act committed by an external entity. For the first time, Japan is conducting diplomacy in order to recover the original status and receive due compensation. As is usual for a novice, unfortunately, Japan has not scored well. The Japanese government says that the abduction issue is the highest priority among the issues between Japan and DPRK and has been putting forth a remarkable effort.1 Yet the goal Japan set might have been too ambitious and might have left too little room for negotiation.

The second reason for the uniqueness of the abduction issue is the remarkable convergence of basic policy lines across the Japanese political spectrum. Very few members of the Japanese Diet are openly opposed to pressuring the DPRK on this issue. According to a survey by the National Association for the Rescue of Japanese Kidnapped by North Korea,2 dubbed Sukuukai in Japanese, 82 percent of the Diet members supported the idea of additional economic sanctions in the event that the DPRK does not show the results of reinvestigation that will lead to the repatriation of all victims.3

Public Outrage and Stalemate4

The abductions of Japanese citizens by North Korea took place in the late 1970s and the early 1980s. At the time, very little was known about the location or fate of the missing people. When a newspaper article reported in 1980 that the missing people might have been kidnapped by a foreign agent, it did not attract much attention from the politicians and was dismissed as mere speculation by the police. This started to change after two incidents. The first was the arrest, in 1985, of a North Korean agent who was carrying the passport of Tadaaki Hara, who disappeared from a beach in Miyazaki Prefecture in June 1980. Then, in 1987, an arrested North Korean agent named Kim Hyong-hee, who perpetrated the bombing of Korean Air flight 858 on November 29 of that year, told the police that she learned the Japanese language from an abducted Japanese person whose name was Yaeko Taguchi. Taguchi had disappeared from the same beach as Hara did, but in 1978. The circumstantial evidence seemed to suggest that North Korea was somehow involved in the missing persons incidents.

In early 1988, following Kim Hyon Hee's confession, the abduction issue was raised in the Diet of Japan for the first time. In March, answering a question in the Diet, Seiroku Kajiyama of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) announced that missing persons incidents in the 1970s and the 1980s might have been the result of abductions by North Korea. However, Kajiyama's statement did not lead to substantial action by the foreign ministry. The ministry told the family members of the missing people, to their dismay, that without formal diplomatic relations with North Korea or concrete evidence of North Korea's responsibility, the Japanese government could do little about the issue.

Following the end of the Cold War and improved relations between North and South Korea, Japan sought to engage with North Korea in a more friendly manner. In 1990, a Japanese delegation led by Shin Kanemaru, a heavyweight of the LDP, and Makoto Tanabe, a senior member of the Socialist Party, visited North Korea in order to facilitate the negotiations on diplomatic normalization. …

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