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Home > Media Reviews > News Review Last Updated: 14:53 03/09/2007
News Review #218: May 24, 2004

Koizumi's popularity rises after N Korea summit

Reviewed by Hitoshi URABE

"Koizumi's popularity rises after N Korea summit"
(by Barney Jopson) Financial Times


Prime Minister Koizumi made a trip over the weekend to North Korea, to deal in person with Kim Jon-il, the dictatorial leader.

There has been a wide variety of views and opinions expressed in Japan from just about every facets of the society regarding the results of the trip. Media has been having a hard time summarizing the people's responses, and commentators have been trying to find legitimate grounds on which their comments could be based.

Actually, it was a battle impossible to win victory, per se, for the Prime Minister.

It is then whether Mr Koizumi should be commended for his bravery in committing the venture to obtain at least a chunk of what had been aspired for, knowing he would be held responsible and be accused for whatever he would not achieve; or the Prime Minister should be condemned for his Don Quixote like and careless behavior, by making the hasty trip, effectively playing the last trump card in hand prematurely in exchange of so little to gain.

There were two large issues. One, the abduction, and the other, national security.

The former is further broken down into a number of aspects. First is the families of the five abductees returned a year and a half ago and lost contact since. This can further be segregated into two. One is the children of two couples, both abducted from Japan, married in North Korea, and had children there. Mr Koizumi brought back with him all the five children to meet and live again with their parents. Thus this is a task fully accomplished.

The case of Ms Soga, the fifth returned abductee, is somewhat complicated. While being held in North Korea, Ms Soga married an American, a US army deserter, and between them had two children. Apparently, Kim Jon-il was willing to release him and the children, but the American ex-soldier told Mr Koizumi directly of his reluctance to go to Japan, where he has had no connections except it being the home of his wife, and under the very real risk of him being detained and prosecuted for the desertion. There are some in Japan who claim that it was Mr Koizumi's failure for not bringing him and the children back with him, while others have expressed different views.

On the Prime Minister's previous trip to Pyongyang in September 2004, North Korea had revealed that eight abductees were already dead. The documents and other evidences presented afterwards by North Korea, however, had obvious flaws and errors, raising suspicions as to the real fate of those abductees. To additional inquiries made by Japanese authorities, North Korea has maintained that the issue was closed. Kim Jon-il, this time, has expressed to Mr Koizumi that North Korea would re-investigate the issue. The response of Japanese people on the issue can be described as mixed. Many of the family members of those who had been told dead were furious at Mr Koizumi for not making any progress since the last visit. Some people have joined them in accusing Mr Koizumi, while others feel it a progress for at least Kim Jon-il's admission to look further into the issue.

With regard to some one hundred or so missing, with widely varying degrees of suspicion for North Korea's involvement in their disappearance, there was no mention of it at all.

There is not much on the national security issue. Mr Koizumi apparently tried to persuade Kim Jon-il to respond productively to the international concern with regard to their nuclear arms development, but no significant response was available. There is not much complaint expressed within Japan on this respect, as apparently there was no one really believing his visit would solve the issue.

So much for the "take" side. As in the case of any diplomatic negotiation, there was the "give" side. Mr Koizumi agreed to send 250 thousand tons of food and 10 million dollar worth of medicine, along with a promise that hostile acts against North Korea, such as prohibiting their ships to visit Japan's ports, will not be enacted so long as North Korea abide by the accord established in September 2002. This has expectedly upset some sector of Japanese people. They have accused the Prime Minister for giving too much and gaining too little.

One thing became clear with regard to the national security issue through the exercise. The notion that Japan acting alone would have very little clout has been vividly demonstrated. In fact, a large portion of the disapproval of Mr Koizumi's visit is based on the impression that the Prime Minister was too soft towards North Korea. Some even suggest that if Japan had stronger power - implying military - Mr Koizumi was able to push his demands more strongly. For naive people, this sort of argument could be easy to understand and swallow.

At a very personal level, it was a relief for the two families to be able to unite again. Acknowledging and respecting the fact that for the children, this is an unexpected and abrupt change of life, Japanese people wish them well. Ms Soga, however, who has fallen into the chasm of historical and geographical conflicts, deserves sympathy and encouragement so as not to lose hope.

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