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Home > Media Reiews > News Review Last Updated: 14:53 03/09/2007
News Review #153: August 4, 2003

Letters revive debate over Japanese abductees

Reviewed by Hitoshi URABE

"Letters revive debate over Japanese abductees "
By David Pilling (The Financial Times)


North Korea seems to feel pressed even harder, as indicated by the fact that their children's letters and photos were delivered to the five abductees, who returned to Japan ten months ago after being held captive in the closed nation for a quarter of a century.

In hindsight, it was a mistake on the part of North Korea, in terms of their diplomatic tactics, when Japan's Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi visited Pyongyang last September, to admit to him that it in fact kidnapped a number of Japanese citizens over the years.

Last summer, North Korea was facing a hard-line diplomacy of the US, where President Bush named the regime as one of the three to form "an axis of evil." In South Korea, the Southern neighbor, a presidential election was coming up toward the end of the year, where while the results were unpredictable, one thing certain was that the Sunshine Policy, a soft approach toward North Korea promoted by President Kim at the time, was coming to an end. It was a tactic too obvious, then, to aim to relax at least a little of the tense relation with Japan in an effort to balance the overall foreign relations of the North.

The plot to plead guilty and allowing few abductees for a short period of time to be back in Japan, in an endeavor to calm the anxieties of Japanese people toward the North, however, backfired. The returned abductees, upon meeting with their relatives and old friends declared that they would not go to the North again, and as information flooded the media on what evil the rogue regime had been doing to Japan and its people, feelings of ordinary Japanese people turned sour against the North.

Surprised by the unexpected response of the Japanese people, North Korea arranged a TV interview with the 15-year daughter of a girl whom the North admitted to have abducted, but said has already died. In the interview, the girl pleaded to her grandparents to come and see her in North Korea. However, as many suspected it to be another of devious tactics by the regime, it again harmed its reputation more than did any good. Because the grandparents of the girl were the leaders of the families of the abductees, and whereabouts of no other suspected abductees was disclosed, it was too easy to speculate it to be a plot aimed at softening the attitudes of the grandparents as the leaders of the group. The TV allowed to report the interview exclusively, which initially thought it to be a big scoop to raise its name, was condemned by the people for acting as an agent to a wicked attempt.

In fact, this incident convinced many in Japan of the untrustworthy nature of the rulers of the North.

This time around, ordinary people remain cool in reading reports on the letters and photos of the children. Not that they do not sympathize with the returned abductees and their families, but it is because they know that overreacting to a diplomatic trick played by the Northern regime would not benefit the families, and perhaps the overall diplomatic strategy as a country toward that rogue nation.

It is assumed by the critics that the North, upon unwillingly counter-proposing a meeting of six countries to discuss their nuclear arms development, is trying to get the issue of abduction on a separate track from the meeting. It is the North's desire to confine it to a bilateral topic with Japan only, so as not to have other countries, the US, China, Russia, or South Korea, get involved in the kidnappings of Japanese citizens. For Japan, the six-nation meeting would be a good opportunity to seek support of other countries to save those kidnapped and their families.

It was of course relieving to learn that their children are in no apparent danger. Nevertheless, perhaps what is needed to be shared is the fury of the returned abductees, that family ties and love for children are being used as pawns atrociously in a counterproductive and crappy diplomatic ploy.

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