The Abduction Issue

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For the safety of human rights and abductees, Japan would keep posting its voice

Resuming of diplomatic channel is a good omen. Pyongyang has been changing its posture and policy. It is giving a positive signal for a negotiated settlement of long –pending issues. The country intends to get engage in diplomacy to solve its disputes with its neighbours. Outstanding issues must be discussed on the table. Tense ties, however, exist between Japan and North Korea.

Abduction of Japanese nationals held by North Koreans emotionally runs very high between the two nations. Perhaps this is the most outstanding issue between them for long now. In this regard, both countries held a formal meeting in Beijing after a hiatus of sixteen months on 30 March.

Japan says that its nationals were abducted by North Korean spy agencies in the 1970s and 1980s. This was the height of the Cold War for Japan. It wanted that North Korea should investigate these cases to the satisfaction of Japanese government. The Government came forward with a very clear policy on the abductees’ issue:

“The abductions of Japanese citizens by North Korea is a grave issue in terms of national sovereignty as well as the lives and safety of the Japanese citizens and there will be no normalization of relations with North Korea unless the abduction issue is resolved”.

North Korea leader Kim Jong-ll admitted to Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi in 2002, when the latter visited Pyongyang, that its spy agencies abducted some Japanese nationals. North Korea revealed that such abductees were thirteen but Japan insisted that the abductees were seventeen. Five of them were repatriated to Japan in 2002 and the remaining thirteen were dead as was reported by North Korea. Remains of the two dead were handed over by North Korean authorities to Japan.

North Korea also executed two agents involved in the kidnapping. To North Koreans, the matter was settled but Japan repeatedly insisted to further investigate the matter as to where its remaining nationals were gone. The North Korean government promised to investigate the case in 2008.

Japan does not believe that they were dead. Until now North Korean explanations are unacceptable to Japanese. They say that North Koreans have not produced any objective evidence, which corroborates their claim that they have ‘died’. To Japanese, North Korean claims are dubious.

For Japan, it is missing-persons and humanitarian case and it must be resolved. Since the 1970s, every successive Japanese Government faced the case. When the LDP government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was installed in December 2012, talks with North Korea were already wrecked on the issue. So his government has been under immense pressure to take up the issue with North Korea.

For North Koreans the matter has been resolved but Japanese did not believe so. Besides the abduction case, nuclear and Rodong missiles launching by North Korea are also matters of concern for Japan. It will lift some sanctions against North Korea if negotiations produced some tangible results.

Talks were halted in November 2012 after North Korean missile launching. If the abduction issue was resolved it would normalize the relations between the two nations, embittered since 1945. North Korea made the third nuclear testing in February last, thus creating more rifts with its neighbours especially with Japan, which feels being threatened. Ever since 2006, North Korea has become a nuclear reality. This complicated more Japanese-North Korean negotiations.

Japan being a democratic nation, the abduction issue threatens its sovereignty. The issue was put forward to ‘normalize’ Japanese military capacities penalized by its Peace Constitution. The Japanese government has established a secretariat about the abduction issue in 2006 under the prime minister.

Japan would do utmost to resolve the issue. For the safety of human rights and abductees, Japan would keep posting its voice. The United Nations emphasized in its resolutions in 2005, 2206, and 2007 to call on North Korea to cooperate with it on abductees’ issue.

The industrialized countries threw support behind Japan over the issue. Japan also repeatedly brought the issue before the Six Party Talks on North Korea. Human rights activists will keep raising the issue in Japan. Therefore, for all accounts, the abduction issue is very serious and highly politicized in Japan and normalization of ties between the two countries hinges on resolution of this issue before anything could be done.

Now it looks that China has been providing a platform to resolve the abduction issue between Tokyo and Pyongyang to bring lasting peace in North East Asia. Beijing conveyed its anger to Pyongyang when it tested its nuclear devise last year. The nuclear and missiles issues as well as the comfort women issue must be resolved between Japan and North Korea. This would also lower down tension between them.

Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ISS or of the Government of Pakistan.