Japan Institute for National Fundamentals

Speaking out

Tsutomu Nishioka

【#577】Approaching Last Chance to Rescue Japanese Abductees

Tsutomu Nishioka / 2019.03.13 (Wed)

March 11, 2019

     After the breakdown of the U.S.-North Korea summit in Hanoi in late February, some in Japan observed that a breakthrough might come on the issue of the North’s abduction of Japanese citizens because North Korea approaches Japan when its relations with the United States are tense. I don’t expect any such development. Given that the abduction issue was incorporated into Washington-Pyongyang negotiations on the North’s dismantlement of nuclear missiles, I suspect that Pyongyang would not negotiate with Tokyo until its negotiations with Washington make progress. When the U.S.-North Korea negotiations make progress, meanwhile, Japan’s economic assistance will serve as “carrots” to encourage the North to accept compromise. Just after such progress, a Japan-North Korea summit may come. I suppose that it could come within this year.

Japan-N. Korea summit likely on progress in denuclearization talks
     U.S. President Donald Trump referred to the abduction issue both at his one-on-one meeting with North Korean dictator Chairman Kim Jong Un and a subsequent dinner meeting in Hanoi. Some people’s criticism of the Abe administration for depending on the U. S. for resolving the abduction issue is based on a misunderstanding of facts.
     At a meeting with family members of the abductees and their supporters, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said, “President Trump directly conveyed my idea about the resolution of the abduction issue (to Kim).” Abe clarified the idea in his policy address to the parliament on January 28. “Towards the resolutions of the nuclear and missile issues, and most importantly, the abduction issue, we will take bold actions without missing any single opportunity, by breaking the shell of mutual distrust, and with myself meeting face-to-face with Chairman Kim Jong Un. We will seek to settle the unfortunate past and normalize relations with North Korea.”
     At the meeting with Chairman Kim, President Trump reportedly spread a map of North Korea and built on his property development experiences to explain that hotel construction would develop a specific coastal zone into a resort. Then, Trump told Kim that Abe was planning to provide economic assistance on condition of the abduction issue resolution, while the U.S. Congress was unlikely to approve funding.
Japan should utilize information on surviving abductees
     Before the Hanoi summit, North Koreans were led to expect that the summit would be successful, bringing about the relaxation of international economic sanctions, the resumption of China-North Korea trade and financial assistance from Japan and South Korea. Although the summit breakdown has reportedly disappointed North Koreans, this episode indicates that economic sanctions have forced the Pyongyang leadership to cite the possible flow of Japan money to calm down domestic discontent.
     When the North Korean party organ Rodong Sinmun reported the Hanoi summit breakdown on March 8 for the first time, its article criticized Prime Minister Abe for angering Pyongyang while tapping on a North Korean door. But it also demanded the settlement of Japan’s colonial past by noting that Japan should not dream of keeping company with North Korea without paying compensations for its past crime.
     The Pyongyang leadership is undoubtedly planning to win money from Japan after successful negotiations with Washington. It seems that no final decision has been made on whether to return all Japanese abductees or some of them while falsely claiming the remainder as dead. Pyongyang is checking Japan-held information on surviving abductees in North Korea.
     Families of Japanese abductees and their supporters have sent Chairman Kim a message that if all abductees are immediately returned, they will not seek secrets from these abductees or raise opposition to the normalization of bilateral relations. Prime Minister Abe should give full consideration to their desperate wish and take advantage of information collected so far in the final stage of rescuing all abductees.

Tsutomu Nishioka is a senior fellow and a Planning Committee member at the Japan Institute for National Fundamentals. He is a visiting Professor at Reitaku University and covers South and North Koreas.