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Home > Media Reviews > News Review Last Updated: 14:53 03/09/2007
News Review #215: May 14, 2004

Japan's Koizumi to Visit N. Korea

Reviewed by Hitoshi URABE

"Japan's Koizumi to Visit N. Korea"
(AP) New York Newsday


There have been reports similar to the one introduced here that Prime Minister Koizumi plans to visit North Korea later next week in an attempt to advance the issue of abduction and perhaps other problems. The government has not confirmed the report as of this writing, but the issue has been stalled for a year and a half, and it needs to be dealt with quickly as it is an issue of recovering the rights of Japanese citizens.

It was September 17, 2002 when Prime Minister Koizumi made a surprise visit to North Korea, first ever by a Japanese Prime Minister, to discuss various issues, including the kidnapping. Apparently the trip was made despite a warning by the US that it could have an adverse effect on the security of the US and Japan. A very big surprise came out of the meeting was their leader Kim Jon-il's confession of abducting Japanese citizens in 1970-80's and said they would be returned to Japan.

On October 15 of that year, five abductees were returned home after a quarter of a century of them being filed as "missing" in Japan. Apparently the aim of North Korea was to by admitting the crime in the past Japanese sentiment toward North Korea would soften, allowing for increased aid to be drawn out of Japan. But the Japanese people responded in the opposite direction.

It was until then that just expressing a suspicion of abduction would invite a harsh criticism from the extremists and even some political parties. The Communists and the Social Party (now the virtually defunct Social Democratic Party) held an official position that such a crime could not have possibly be committed by the "wonderful North Korea" led by the "great father" Kim Il-sung and his son Kim Jon-il. As such, the Japanese government, including police, was reluctant to search the missing people rumored as being kidnapped by North Korea. The people's animosity was targeted to those politicians used to defend North Korea, the bureaucrats who had failed to their jobs, and, North Korea and its leader.

The resentment by the Japanese people toward North Korea became so strong, which was later fueled by the reports of their development of nuclear bombs, it has made even diplomatic and tactical approaches virtually impossible to experiment for the negotiators. Consequently, no progress has been made for the past year and a half.

Accordingly, the news of the Prime Minster's planned visit sheds light on the possible solution of the issue. There is skepticism abound, however. The first is just what is meant by a "solution" here. Five citizens have been returned, but there are said to be significantly more victims, with the largest estimation being in the order of a hundred. There seems to be those who have already died, but could the North Koreans present legitimate explanations for their death, to answer to suspicions that they were maliciously executed; and what if they were indeed executed? How should the families of the abductees, especially children raised, and have kept been told, as native North Koreans be treated? There is also a risk that any progress at the meeting next week will make North Korea to consider the whole issue to be settled, to provide the grounds to reject Japan's inquiries and demands in the future.

Aside from these issues involving the victims and their families, there is also a huge political risk involved. If a satisfactory result - itself an undefined notion - do not come out of the meeting, it would not only be a fierce blow to Mr Koizumi currently enjoying a popular support, but it means the situation could become worse than now, as the last and ultimate card to be played, the Prime Minister's visit, will have been exhausted, and it would take a long time to recover it.

Copyright © Japanese Institute of Global Communications