THE ROAD AHEAD
The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS),
the Korea Economic Institute (KEI)
and the Mansfield Foundation cordially invite you to attend
a Korea-Japan Study Group meeting featuring:
Editor-at-Large, Sankei Shimbun
Executive Director, U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea
Senior Research Fellow, Asian Studies Center, Heritage Foundation
Assistant Director and Fellow, Office of Japan Chair, CSIS
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
3:00 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.
CSIS, Conference Room B1-C (Basement)
Center for Strategic and International Studies
1800 K Street, NW
Washington, DC 20006
Please RSVP (acceptance only) to Eri Hirano via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please respond by October 23.
JAPAN—DPRK RELATIONS: THE ROAD AHEAD
When Yasuo Fukuda came on board as the new Prime Minister of Japan in late September, many Japanese observers of the issues related to North Korea hinted at the prospect that he would adopt a softer policy and a more flexible stance toward Pyongyang than his predecessors. In fact, a number of critics expressed concern that, given Mr. Fukuda’s past record, he would be more likely to take a position of appeasement vis-à-vis the abduction issue, in which agents of the North Korean regime kidnapped innocent Japanese citizens over a series of years.
The turn of events over the past one month, however, instead indicates that Prime Minister Fukuda is continuing on in principle with the policy established under both the Koizumi and Abe governments.
To chart the road ahead for Japan’s approach to DPRK that Mr. Fukuda or any other Japanese leaders might embark upon, it is imperative to look at Japan’s policy up to now. The official road map for Japan’s policy toward North Korea still remains the Pyongyang Declaration that was signed in September 2002 by then the Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and General Secretary of the Workers Party of the DPRK, Kim Jong-il. The Declaration calls for efforts toward several types of agreement that would theoretically culminate in the normalization of relations between Japan and the Pyongyang regime. The significant topics addressed in the Declaration include:
l Japan’s apology for its rule of what is now the DPRK and the consequent economic assistance which would be reparations from the North Korean perspective, and
l The DPRK’s “appropriate measures” to bring resolution to the abduction issue, which the agreement vaguely describes as “the outstanding issues of concern related to the lives of Japanese nationals.”
The Declaration also incorporates an agreement by both sides on ”the necessity of resolving security problems including nuclear and missile issues.”
During the course of the five years that have passed since the signing of the Pyongyang Declaration, both sides sometimes accused the other of violating the agreements contained within it but neither side has scrapped it. For Japan, the Declaration is to this day still the official, if somewhat controversial basis for its policy toward North Korea.
The Japanese Government has hammered out specific policies from stipulations of the Declaration based on the Japanese interpretation. These include the order of proceeding by which, only after the abduction, nuclear and missile issues have been resolved, should Japan proceed to normalize relations with the Pyongyang regime. In other words, there is a linkage between the sub-issues and normalization, and resolution of the sub-issues is a precondition to normalization. Even so, inside Japan there is broad criticism of the agreement as abominably one-sided with Japan alone making substantive concessions. In Japan, the question of the Declaration’s validity has also been raised due to North Korea’s actions on several counts, including belligerent acts subsequent to the Declaration such as firing missiles toward and over Japanese territory, engaging in nuclear proliferation and providing horrifically false information on the Japanese victims of Pyongyang’s abductions.
A series of policy statements regarding North Korea that Prime Minister Fukuda has made recently should be read in the context of this linkage, though they might sound broad and somewhat ambiguous. He delivered his first major policy speech on October 1, addressing the Diet as follows:
“The resolution of the issues surrounding the Korean Peninsular is indispensable to peace and stability in Asia. We will further strengthen cooperation with the international community toward the goal of denuclearizing North Korea through the Six Party Talks and by other means. The abduction issue is a serious human rights problem. We will make the utmost effort to materialize the earliest possible repatriation of the abductees, and then seek to normalize relations between Japan and North Korea by settling the “unfortunate past.”
Mr. Fukuda also said in subsequent Diet committee meetings that
“it is important to try to resolve the three issues simultaneously, abduction, nuclear, and missile, and then go forward with normalization.”
Immediately following the Pyongyang Declaration, five of the Japanese abductees and subsequently their families were returned to Japan. In the years since then, however, the Japanese government has witnessed no signs of improvement in any of these three areas.
Failing cooperation and given the belligerency emanating from Pyongyang in the two years after signing, the Japanese government initiated economic sanctions against the DPRK regime. It first stopped humanitarian assistance in December 2004, when DNA testing of ashes Pyongyang claimed to be the remains of Megumi Yokota, one of the abductees, were determined to be fake. The Japanese government implemented additional economic sanctions, including a ban on visits by North Korean ships, in July 2006 in protest of Pyongyang’s missile launches. Additional measures such as a ban on certain Japanese exports to the DPRK were added three months later when North Korea conducted a nuclear test.
Very importantly, Prime Minister Fukuda extended these sanctions at the end of last month for at least another six months period.
The Japanese approach to North Korea has often been characterized by Japan’s Prime Ministers as “dialogue and pressure.” The sanctions I have mentioned clearly constitute “pressure.” Under the current international circumstance, these sanctions make Japan just about the only country among the nations concerned with North Korean issues that has no dealings whatsoever, economic, humanitarian, or otherwise with the Pyongyang regime.
This situation can be described as “Japan standing alone”. Unfortunately, this situation begins to look even more pronounced with the United States’ softening, whether real or perceived, toward Pyongyang on human rights and the nuclear issue. Neither the Japanese political leadership nor the public is oblivious to the apparent shift in US policy. Yet, no one in a responsible position has publicly advocated any similar change in Japan’s policy.
Let me shed a bit of light on the Japanese domestic scene in this regard. Of the three outstanding issues regarding North Korea, abduction, nuclear, and missile, it is the abduction issue that figures by far most prominently with the Japanese public and consequently also with Japan’s political leadership.
The human tragedy of young Japanese men and women having been snatched away from their community and taken to North Korea without their loved ones knowing their fate for years and years tugs at the heartstrings of ordinary Japanese. Worse, their ordeals were ignored by their own government and most of the media until 2002. Even after evidence of the North Korean regime’s criminal acts of abduction began to be revealed in the early 1990s, the Japanese government officially accepted Pyongyang’s flat denial of the kidnappings at its face value and continued on with the normalization negotiation and large scale economic assistance. Those who objected and pointed their fingers in Pyongyang’s direction, including the family members of the victims, were often labeled as the “enemies of reconciliation and peace”, or as part of the vast rightwing conspiracy.
Therefore, in September, 2002, when Kim Jong-il himself acknowledged his own agents’ abduction of Japanese nationals from Japanese soil, the reaction from the Japanese public was swift and extraordinarily fierce. They condemned not only North Korea but also their own government and political leadership. The small number of Japanese elected officials who sympathized with the families of abduction victims and who had protested to the government when the issue was being ignored retroactively received great public admiration and support. One of them was a junior politician named Shinzo Abe. In fact, it is Abe’s devotion over many years to the cause of the abductees that catapulted him into national fame and eventually to the Prime Ministership.
It is perhaps difficult to fathom the rationale for the current Japanese posture without understanding the depth and intensity of the abduction issue as I just reviewed.
(to be continued)