Is former US Army Sgt. Charles Robert Jenkins a defector who
tried to avoid the Vietnam War by crossing over to North Korea? Or
was he ambushed by infiltrators, brainwashed, and led down a 40-
year rabbit hole of anti-US propaganda inside the mystery world of
The case of Mr. Jenkins, who disappeared across the Korean DMZ in
1965 while on patrol, and who officially turned up in Pyongyang two
years ago, is already as odd as can be - part Manchurian Candidate,
part Rip Van Winkle.
Yet as Jenkins arrived in Tokyo Sunday night, leaning heavily on
his Japanese wife - herself abducted by North Korean spies in 1978 -
and two daughters, the question is what kind of ending will be
written for this strange affair, which has consumed the interest of
the Japanese public and been an unwanted irritant in otherwise
genial US-Japan relations.
The White House is unenthusiastically asking for Jenkins' return
by Tokyo to face charges of defection, though Ambassador Howard
Baker is prepared to wait indefinitely for a medical report on the
North Carolina native's health. Contrary to many media reports, US
officials in Asia say Jenkins is not covered by a 40-year statute of
limitations that would end next spring. Nor would giving him
Japanese citizenship trump the Status of Forces Agreement that
requires Japan to turn him over.
The Japanese government and public, for their part, very much
want a Hollywood ending to the Jenkins drama. They prefer either
that the US not ask that Jenkins be turned over, or that he be given
a special pardon allowing him to live happily ever after with his
wife, Hitomi Soga.
Wife popular with Japanese
Ms. Soga, abducted with her mother by North Korean agents while
on a trip to the supermarket, is one of the most popular among the 5
abductees that Prime Minister Koizumi got released in a breakthrough
trip to visit Kim Jong Il two years ago. Dealing strongly with
feared North Korea and bringing home citizens thought long lost or
deceased proved a huge boon for Koizumi's popularity. In Japan, the
abductees became media superstars, and Soga, who read a moving poem
upon her return, is especially loved.
Meanwhile, in the middle of the Jenkins brouhaha, Japanese
authorities last week arrested American chess maestro and mystery
man Bobby Fischer, who had been eluding US officials since 1992. Mr.
Fischer played Russian Boris Spassky in the former Yugoslavia, re-
gaining his crown as the world's No. 1 player. But the trip violated
US sanctions against Belgrade over its aggression in Bosnia.
As of this writing, Fischer was waiting in a Tokyo airport
detention center for extradition to the US for using an illegal
passport. His arrest is seen by some as a possible goodwill gesture
by Japan as it lobbies the US for leniency in the Jenkins case.
Jenkins and his daughters, age 18 and 21, got on a flight in
Jakarta Sunday wearing Kim Il Sung pins. Mr. Kim is the post-war
founder of North Korea, Kim Jong Il's father, and an object of
absolute adulation in that country. But Jenkins got off the plane in
Tokyo without the pin, though his two daughters, both students at
the Pyongyang University of Foreign Studies, continue to wear the
pins. Jenkins hobbled from the tarmac to a bus that took him to what
is reportedly the Tokyo Women's Medical College, one used often by