Former Kim Jong-il Aide Reveals Secret Story about 2002 Japan-North Korea Summit
Marking the start of the fifth annual week in Japan （December 10-16） designated to enlighten citizens on the scope of North Korea’s human rights violations, a Japan-South Korean seminar was held in Tokyo on December 10. The topic: “Why We Can Assert the Abductees Are Still Alive in North Korea.” During the one-day seminar, 12 panelists and speakers - three from South Koreas and nine from Japan including myself as moderator - discussed a wide range of matters pertaining to the North Korean abduction of Japanese and South Korean citizens. Particularly shocking were revelations made by Jang Chul-Hyun, who once served as a key official of the United Front Department (UFD) - an anti-South intelligence outfit of the North Korean Labor Party.
Jang is the same person who published a collection of poems in 2002, titled I Will Sell My Daughter for 100 Won (Bansei-Sha, Tokyo) under the pseudonym of Jin Seong. Called “my author” by chairman Kim Jong-il and taken into his confidence, Jang was in a rare position to avail himself of classified information while serving as a high-ranking officer of the UFD. During the seminar, Jang publicly discussed for the first time how North Korea viewed the September 17, 2002 visit to Pyongyang by the then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi - a behind-the-scenes episode only an insider could relate. Based on the remarks Jang made during the seminar and during an interview I had with him separately, I will attempt to explain how the situation surrounding the Koizumi-Kim summit developed.
Jang described in great detail how North Korea’s top echelon reacted to the results of working level bilateral consultations between Japan and North Korea leading up to Koizumi’s actual visit to Pyongyang, noting that the Japanese side might not quite agree with North Korea’s views, and stressing that is what negotiations are all about.
“The North Korean side was out to link the summit with an opportunity to make Japan apologize for its colonial rule over (North) Korea and compel it to pay huge compensation,” Jang pointed out. “Clearly, North Korea intended to use the summit as a venue towards normalizing diplomatic relations between Pyongyang and Tokyo, hoping the world turn its eyes away from its crimes of abduction with a great diplomatic triumph, while obtaining a huge amount of foreign currency from Japan and strengthen the position and authority of the pro-Pyongyang Federation of Korean Residents in Japan (Chongryon).”
During the preliminary negotiations clearing the way to the summit, how North Korea should acknowledge its past abductions of Japanese citizens was the critical point at issue.
“The North Korean side thought it was possible to reflect on the abductions and express remorse and apology as a criminal act committed by an independent organ, while rigidly adhering to a policy of not allowing any references to the administration itself, i.e., Chairman Kim Jong-il,” observed Jang. “On the other hand, the Japanese side proposed that Japan apologize for its colonial past, inviting North Korea to also apologize for the abductions.”
During the summit, Kim did indeed acknowledge the abductions and apologized, telling Koizumi those involved in the acts had already been dealt with. That much was in keeping with the results of the working level consultations. However, the Japan-DPRK Pyongyang Declaration signed at the end of the summit neither referred to the abductions nor included Kim’s apology. Instead, it had only Japan’s apology for its colonial rule.
Counting His Chickens before They Hatched
Jang discussed still more interesting facts about Kim’s apology, but I think I will attempt to explain here another important point of contention before referring to them - the process of preliminary talks on the amount of compensation North Korea expected to get from Japan.
“Initially, North Korea demanded US$40 billion (approximately￥4.8 trillion at the conversion rate at the time), under the contention that the amount represented what Japan plundered during its colonial rule of Korea, plus the interest carried since the end of the Greater East Asian War. But the Japanese side retorted that North Korea had been using free of charge the infrastructure such as the power plants, iron works, and railways that Japan had built, and demanded that Pyongyang reimburse Japan on these outlays. Eventually, the two countries agreed that Japan would pay North Korea US$11.5 billion (approximately￥1.4 trillion) when the two nations normalized diplomatic relations. This sum was reported to Kim.
Because North Korea had linked Koizumi’s visit to diplomatic normalization initiatives from the outset, Kim entrusted the Foreign Ministry with the negotiations. But the UFD did not appreciate this arrangement. In point of fact, the North Korean side had squeezed US$450 million in cash from South Korea‘s President Kim Dae-jun prior to the June 2000 North-South summit in Pyongyang which was handled by the UFD.
But Kim was too pressed for cash to heed the advice of the UFD and forgo the summit with Koizumi. Rebuilding North Korea’s battered domestic economy was an urgent matter which could seriously affect the fate of his nation. Eventually, Kim allegedly put his trust in the $11.5 billion scenario, using it as a premise to have the Academy of Social Science and the College of People’s Economics, among others, work out economic redevelopment plans.
Chief among the North Korean economic redevelopment scheme was a project aimed at converting the nation’s single-track railways to double track. Kim Jong-il apparently attached more importance to the construction of domestic economic infrastructure sustaining a self-sufficient economy than to developing an export-oriented economy. Choosing his chickens before they hatched, Kim waged a psychological war to obtain the funds by stressing the damage North Korea had suffered under the 35-year Japanese colonial rule which ended with Japan’s surrender on August 15, 1945.
It was under such circumstances that Koizumi set foot on North Korean soil. On September 17, 2002, no smile was visible on Koizumi’s face as he entered into the morning session of the summit talks with Kim.
“For Koizumi, the summit turned out to be a battle with Japan’s national dignity at stake from the outset,” continued Jang. “For him, it was a confrontation in which the Japanese government must demand that North Korea express remorse and apologize for the abductions. During the noon recess, Kim read a hastily prepared transcript of wiretapped remarks by the members of the Japanese delegation, some of whom voiced strong criticism over North Korea’s refusal to apologize, and demanded that Koizumi call it quits. Consequently, in the afternoon session following the recess, Kim arbitrarily decided to acknowledge the abductions, and did indeed apologize. This was a totally unexpected phenomenon.”
Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who accompanied Koizumi to Pyongyang as Assistant Chief Cabinet Secretary, discussed what brought about Kim’s apology, explaining:
“Koizumi spent much of the morning session accusing North Korea of some serious matters including the abductions, with Kim Jong-il listening without saying a word. Then, when we were ushered into a separate room for the recess, I said to Prime Minister Koizumi that I did not think it necessary to sign the Pyongyang Declaration if North Korea continued to refuse to admit the abductions as a crime committed by the state and did not even apologize. I told the prime minister that, under such circumstances, the summit might as well break down. And I said, in no uncertain terms, ‘Mr. Prime Minister, by all means, let us return to Japan!’ I made my case loud and clear, as I knew we were undoubtedly being bugged.”
“Unless an Advance Payment was made…”
I believe Kim Jong-il was probing the possibility of evading the apology until the last minute, while having North Korean Foreign Ministry officials express their views at various stages of the negotiations that it was quite possible for chairman Kim to acknowledge the abductions of Japanese citizens by North Korean agents and apologize. It was most likely the timely and well-thought-out remarks by Abe during the recess 窶殿s well as the potential $11.5 billion compensation package- that prompted Kim to apologize at the outset of the afternoon session. (For his part, Abe says he received no such report concerning any talk of compensation. If certain numbers were discussed, it must obviously have been at the level of Hitoshi Tanaka, then the chief of the Foreign Ministry’s Asia and Oceanic Affairs Bureau. Abe is indignant that Tanaka left no minutes of the proceedings of the preliminary negotiations leading up to the summit, calling his act unpardonable.)
In 2009, I did a magazine article saying that the Koizumi administration had secretly promised to give North Korea￥1 trillion (approximately US$77 billion at the time) in connection with the abduction issue. Although that report was strongly denied by the then Chief Cabinet Secretary Isao IIjima, it has since been amply ascertained by reliable Japanese and Korean sources that Kim Jong-il, anticipating a large inflow of funds from Japan, ordered pertinent sections of the North Korean government to work out economic reconstruction plans.
Diplomatic normalization talks between Japan and North Korea have since been stalled. In the meantime, North Korea has failed to squeeze the anticipated funds out of Japan, the five Japanese abductees who North Korea permitted to temporarily return to Japan have refused to return, and the Japanese in general have come to voice increasing anger against Pyongyang. Endlessly furious over such an unexpected turn of events, Kim Jong-il accused North Korea’s Foreign Ministry as “an insouciant organization that works with no strategy other than some wishful thinking.” By contract, Kim rates the UFD highly, as it had had expressed concern that putting the abduction issue on the summit’s list of topics would eventually cause Japan and South Korea to seek close solidarity with each other over this matter, possibly causing public opinion in the democratic world to turn against North Korea. Kim reportedly has stripped the Foreign Ministry of the initiative in diplomatic negotiations with Japan, transferring it to the UFD.
“Kim Jong-il would always say diplomacy, too, is all about manipulation,” added Jang. “Angry over the sloppy way the Foreign Ministry pursued its diplomacy, Kim ruled that there would never be another summit with his Japanese counterpart unless an advance payment was made. ‘Don’t even propose it.’ That was his strict order.”
Then in May 2004, Koizumi revisited Pyongyang to bring back to Japan children of the abductees. At the beginning of his talks with Kim, Koizumi promised Pyongyang 250,000 tons of grains, among other things. I cannot help but think he bowed to North Korea’s quid pro quo diplomatic demands in making this arrangement.
( Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column no. 490 in the December 22 issue of The Weekly Shincho)