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Home > Media Reiews > News Review Last Updated: 14:53 03/09/2007
News Review #155: August 26, 2003

Choppy waters between N Korea and Japan

Reviewed by Hitoshi URABE

"Choppy waters between N Korea and Japan"
(By David Pilling) Financial Times


As the article states, Mangyongbong, a boxy, white-hulled ferry whose sides are emblazoned with a bright red star, has become a symbol of what most Japanese have finally began to realize as a totalitarian autocratic Stalinist state, North Korea.

Contrary to how the article stipulates, the ship is not the only direct link between the two states. There are more than 1,300 visits by North Korean freight vessels into various Japanese ports every year. And more than their share statistic-wise, they have been involved in marine accidents quite a number of times, and they have been stranded close to Japan's shores, in which case they would simply abandon their ship letting the fuel to spill out and the wreckage to block seaways. They carry no insurance and so the aggrieved parties, including Japanese authorities who must clean up the mess, have no way to ask for compensation.

Mangyongbong, however, is the only practical means for people to travel comfortably across the border, and in that context perhaps it is considered as a symbol of North Korean presence in, or intrusion into, Japan's territory. The ship this time carried 34 passengers and some of them claim they came to visit their relatives living in Japan.

The story may be true, as ordinary people in Japan have no way to confirm or deny their claim. And this is placing the families of Japanese citizens abducted by North Korea in an awkward position.

Families of abducted citizens are facing a dilemma. While they have the perfect right to oppose to Mangyongbong's visit, as a way to protest their own government's seemingly lenient attitude in handling the issue of abduction by North Korea, they are not opposing to family members living in each side of the border to visit one another. Indeed, some of the North Korean passengers have been reported to comment that no one has the right to stop their visiting their own relatives.

But let us not lose our sense of logic here. Who is blocking the mutual visits of family members in the first place? Is it the group of families of the victims of abduction committed by North Korea, is it the people of Japan, or is it the government of Japan? And who is talking about a humanitarian mission vested in that innocent looking ship?

One additional note to the introduced article. It says, "most of those abducted have been returned to Japan." On the contrary, Japanese government itself unofficially, as there is admittedly no concrete proof, commented that there seem to be at lease 70, and possibly more than 100, cases of abductions committed by North Korea. And to the official questionnaire sent by the Japanese government, North Korea has not replied.

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