TRUMP-KIM SUMMIT CALLS FOR JAPAN’S CONCERTED EFFORTS TO RESOLVE ABDUCTION ISSUE
In Quebec on June 7, just before leaving behind the members of the Group of Seven early to head for Singapore for the first US-North Korea summit, Donald Trump told the press that he would know almost immediately if Kim Jong-un was serious about negotiating a nuclear deal. Trump declared: “Within the first minute, I’ll know. My touch, my feel – that’s what I do.”
By the time this column reaches the reader, how the Trump-Kim summit turned out will have been widely reported.
To reach a historic accord with the president of the world’s strongest nation, the dictator of the reclusive North Asian state must first commit himself to complete denuclearization. As part of any agreement, he must also make clear his readiness to resolve the Japanese abductee issue with a promise to return all of them home safely.
Unless Trump succeeds in getting Kim to relinquish the North’s nuclear program altogether now, the world’s nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty system will deteriorate further, leading to a successive increase of groups and nations, large and small, acquiring nuclear weapons. In a similar fashion, a failure to resolve the abduction issue will leave the international community ever more vulnerable to terrorism.
The three Kim generations who have ruled North Korea since 1948 are unquestionably accountable for these problems. They have steeped themselves in every type of evil in order to command power and fortune while securing their own survival. While lacking common sense in most matters, the North Korean leaders have had a keen nose for figuring out how to survive.
Kim began to seriously fear the threat of “beheading” from America after the North’s radar failed to detect two Guam-based US Air Force B-1B supersonic bombers last September 23. Each capable of carrying 60 tons of bombs, the bombers flew in international airspace over the waters off Wonsan, east of North Korea, in a show of superior force. Kim has since behaved like a whole different person, abruptly stopping nuclear and missile tests.
In entering negotiations with Kim, who is more preoccupied with his own survival than the lives and wellbeing of his 24 million people, Trump should endeavor to find the weak points of his counterpart. Trump had best walk into the first round of his talks with a friendly smile, fully confident of America’s superior military capabilities and a strategy built on a strong resolve to pursue the complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization of North Korea.
Time for Japan’s Own Initiatives
On June 10, Foreign Minister Taro Kono had this to say as regards the US-North Korea summit in the keynote address at a private forum in Tokyo on the situation in Northeast Asia:
“In Japan today, I see a flood of analyses on the coming summit and the North Korean situation that are based on a gross misunderstanding. Many pundits talk about a clash within the Trump administration between a conciliatory faction led by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and a hardline faction led by Thomas Bolton, the president’s national security advisor. That is absolutely untrue. Within the US government, there definitely is a shared basic North Korea policy.
“To claim that the Trump administration is leaning toward a conciliatory policy because President Trump has refrained from referring to ‘maximum pressure’ is off the mark. America will not relax its ongoing sanctions against the North until it completely gives up its nuclear program. Mr. Trump is refraining from using the expression simply because he believes that is the sensible thing to do when he is coming to the negotiation table soon.”
How the June 12 summit in Singapore will evolve is difficult to predict as of this writing, one day before the summit, but I find Kono’s view quite reassuring. I was also encouraged by the remarks Trump made on June 7 during a joint news conference with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the White House.
Trump declared: “…I will tell you, on the Prime Minister’s behalf, that he very much talked about abduction. It was preeminent in our conversations. He talked about it long and hard and passionately. And I will follow his wishes, and we will be discussing that with North Korea, absolutely. Absolutely.”
Objectively speaking, I believe we are at our closest ever to a possible resolution of the abduction issue. Between 1977 and 1978, young Japanese men and women—including Yutaka Kume, Megumi Yokota, and Rumiko Masumoto—were kidnapped by North Korean agents in rapid succession. In the long and agonizing four decades since then, their families have been unable to obtain their release. That is why we cannot afford to let this rare opportunity slip by.
Standing before the podium next to Trump, Abe said: “In trying to resolve the abduction issue, Japan itself needs to have direct consultations with North Korea. I have not changed my resolve in doing so.” The conservative daily Sankei Shimbun noted Abe repeated “resolve” five times during his remarks.
Japan must implement quite a number of things in preparation for talks with the North about the abductees and other pertinent issues. First, the government must build unswerving domestic public opinion demanding their immediate homecoming. I am aware that verification will not be easy, but only when the nuclear issue begins to move toward a sound settlement, should the international community begin to relax its stringent sanctions against North Korea.
Trump has already stated that if the North strategically decides to implement the “complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization,” it will have a future as prosperous as its southern neighbor, that aid will pour in from the international community, and that funds will be available from nations like South Korea, China, and Japan. He has not made any mention of the US as an aid donor.
The nations of the world—not only the US but China, Russia, and South Korea—will most likely urge Japan to make its share of monetary contribution. When that moment comes, we Japanese must by all means maintain in unison that not a penny will come from Japan unless Pyongyang returns all of the abductees.
We must remember how our media—including the left-leaning mass-circulation Asahi Shimbun—opposition parties, and pro-Pyongyang forces within Japan have all reacted at similar important crossroads in the past.
This time around, too, they will most likely demand that Japan join the circle of nations ready to aid North Korea instead of single-mindedly demanding the abductees’ release, charging that Japan will otherwise be “left out in the cold.”
Even now, not a few of Abe’s critics argue that the Abe administration “will forever
be kept out of the loop in the international community, or will not be given a chance to confer with Kim Jong-un, as long as he keeps emphasizing ‘pressure on the North.’”
We Want Every Single Abductee Back
What a shallow idea! It was the possibility of the “beheading” operation under America’s pressure strategy that forced Jong-un to the summit and dialogue with Trump in the first place. And it is Abe who has repeatedly been emphasizing the necessity of never relaxing the pressure on the North in his frequent conversations with Trump. Contrary to having been left out in the cold, the Abe administration has contributed significantly to America’s North Korean policy.
Abe has recently sent out this message to Pyongyang: based on the Japan-DPRK Pyongyang Declaration of September 2002, Japan is ready to normalize diplomatic relations with North Korea by settling its unfortunate past and engaging in economic cooperation. The above declaration, signed with Kim Jong-il in Pyongyang by then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, actually makes no direct mention of the abduction issue.
The only (remotely) related reference to the abductees in the declaration is in Clause 3 pertaining to the lives and security of Japanese nationals: “…the DPRK side confirmed that it would take appropriate measures to ensure that these regrettable incidents, that took place under the abnormal bilateral relationship, would never happen in the future.”
This section can be interpreted as a reference to the abductees. But a mere mention that “these terrible incidents…would never occur in the future” is hardly enough from the Japanese point of view. We must arouse overwhelming domestic and international public opinion to ensure that all of the abducted Japanese and other foreign nationals must be safely brought home this time around.
But what does “all of the abductees” really mean? How many of them are there? How will we know that the abductees returned to Japan will include all those who have been abducted since the early 1970s? Unfortunately, the Japanese authorities do not have the precise number of those abducted to the North, although they have an approximate number—said to be up to 1,000 or so.
By interviewing all of the abductees who will hopefully be returned to Japan and collecting information about those Japanese who had lived near them in North Korea, it should be possible to confirm if the North has in fact returned “all of the Japanese abductees still alive in North Korea.” Only after completing this confirmation, should Tokyo enter normalization negotiations with Pyongyang.
And only “after normalizing diplomatic relations,” should Japan implement Clause 2 of the Pyongyang Declaration that extends economic assistance to North Korea. This is the only course of action to follow, and we must do everything necessary to form a national consensus that supports this process.
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column no. 807 in the June 21, 2018 issue of The Weekly Shincho)