ABE MUST RESOLVE ABDUCTION ISSUE BEFORE NORMALIZING DIPLOMATIC RELATIONS WITH PYONGYANG
Donald Trump has delivered much of what he promised voters in the campaign with absolutely no regard to how the world views his decisions. He withdrew America from the Paris Accord and TPP (Transpacific Partnership multinational economic agreement), imposed punitive tariffs on China, and is threatening its European and Pacific allies, including Japan, with similar measures. For better or worse, Trump is committed to making good his campaign promises under his “America first” policy.
Such an approach on the part of Trump, unlike those of his predecessors, has posed a real threat to North Korea’s Kim Jong-un. The joint communique issued by Trump and Kim following their June 12 Singapore summit declared that Trump “committed to provide security guarantees to the DPRK” and Kim “reaffirmed his firm and unwavering commitment to complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”
In the post-summit news conference, Trump stated that the US will suspend joint US-South Korea military exercises while denuclearization talks with the North are under way. They will be resumed should the talks be suspended.
In Seoul on June 14, State Secretary Mike Pompeo stressed that it was critical that the US get “a full picture” of the North’s nuclear program as soon as possible, with plans to begin those efforts within the next few weeks.
On June 17, Pompeo said that he reconfirmed with his South Korean counterpart Kang Kyung-wha in a June 14 telephone conversation that the US will continue to demand “the complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization (CVID)” of North Korea. The previous day, on June 16, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe remarked that “nations that will benefit from the North’s denuclearization, including Japan, should naturally bear the costs of verification (of the North’s denuclearization efforts).” Clearly, Japan and the US are working closely together towards the North’s complete denuclearization.
On June 19, the US and South Korea announced they will suspend major joint military exercises slated for August. Three days later, on June 22, the Pentagon said it will indefinitely suspend major exchange program training exercises in the South, including “Freedom Guardian” and two Korean Marine Exchange Program (KMEP) training exercises scheduled in the next three months.
A Pentagon spokesman announced that the suspensions resulted from consultations between Defense Secretary James Mattis, Pompeo, and National Security Advisor John Bolton. That Bolton, who takes the hardest line against the North within the Trump administration, agreed to the decision shows that the suspensions are far from a weak compromise but rather a reflection of the strong will of the administration to make the North implement complete denuclearization.
The suspension of the joint exercises will deny the North any chance to make excuses for not forging ahead with denuclearization.
Japan’s First Priority: Bringing Home Abductees
On the same day, Trump noted in a letter addressed to the US Congress that North Korea still “poses an extraordinary threat” to the US. I feel that this letter can be viewed as Trump’s ploy to urge the North to take immediate action to implement complete denuclearization.
If the North sincerely honors its pledge to denuclearize, Trump has said it would both be spared American bombing and could expect a future as prosperous as its southern neighbor. He said plush hotels could be built on the beautiful beaches in the North’s east coast. But there will be no prosperous future or hotel resorts without the North putting infrastructure in place, beginning with electricity.
North Korea desperately needs development funds, but cannot expect the US to provide them. It is Trump’s idea to have Japan and South Korea put up the funds. Trump thinks that the North will eventually acquire huge development funds, especially from Japan following diplomatic normalization.
North Korea’s GNP is estimated to be between US$20 and US$30 billion. Former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi is said to have promised Jong-un’s father, the late Kim Jong-il, US$10 billion when he went to Pyongyang to sign the Japan-North Korea Pyongyang Declaration in 2002. Equaling nearly half its total national wealth, the sum would have staggered anyone in the North. One assumes the North Korean economy hasn’t improved much since then. That is why the North is desperately expecting assistance from Japan.
As is well known, Abe has painstakingly explained the abductee issue to Trump each time he has conferred with him. The prime minister has repeatedly stressed that unless all of the pertinent problems with the North are resolved—not only its nuclear weapons program and missiles but also the abduction issueーdiplomatic normalization is absolutely impossible between Tokyo and Pyongyang.
With Abe’s words clearly imprinted on his mind, Trump delivered Abe’s message to the North Korean dictator loud and clear during the Singapore summit: “Shinzo won’t pay you a penny unless the abduction issue is resolved.” In other words, Trump relayed Abe’s unwavering determination to not assist the North’s economic future unless all of the abductees are accounted for and returned to their families. Appearing as a guest on my regular “Genron” Internet television news show last Friday, Tsutomu Nishioka, president of the National Association for the Rescue of Japanese Kidnapped by North Korea (NARKN), talked excitedly about the new prospects of the abductees’ return:
“Mr. Abe has succeeded in getting the abduction issue included in Trump’s deal with North Korea. If ever there was a possibility of getting the release of the Japanese abductees held in the North for over four decades, now is that time!”
Kim Jong-un must be terrified of the possibility of an angry Trump implementing America’s “beheading operation” if he fails to honor his denuclearization pledge. That, I believe, is why Kim has already called on Xi Jing-pin three times in three months this year—to guard himself against America.
Japan must now do everything in its power to contribute to the success of Trump’s North Korean diplomacy. Now is the time for all of us in Japan to band together unswervingly under a national slogan demanding a safe and swift return of all of the abductees. In this regard, we must clearly bear in mind that Japan should not misjudge the timing to relax its economic sanctions against the North, as our prime minister stresses. A premature easing of the ongoing sanctions is bound to fail.
Japan should refrain from acting in haste but wait until the North makes a gesture of readiness to discuss the abduction issue squarely, which the North Koreans have so far refused to do, ignoring the 2014 Japanese-DPRK Agreement on Sanctions and Abductees. Under this agreement, Japan was to ease sanctions in return for a renewed investigation by the North into abducted Japanese citizens.
Obstructions from Pro-Pyongyang Lawmakers
And yet, some quarters in Japan are already making highly questionable moves. For instance, an association of pro-Pyongyang Japanese lawmakers at the Diet—the Japan-North Korea Parliamentary Friendship League—held a meeting in Tokyo on June 21, calling for an early start of talks between Tokyo and Pyongyang on diplomatic normalization. Forty-one of its 65 registered members from a wide range of parties, including the ruling Liberal-Democratic Party (LDP), its junior partner Komeito Party, and the Japan Communist Party (CP), were present. Notable among the conferees were LDP members Seishiro Eto, president of the Friendship League, and Shigeru Ishiba, an LDP heavyweight who is allegedly running for the party’s presidential election against Abe this fall. Several of them were JCP lawmakers.
I couldn’t help but feel more than a little uncomfortable that LDP members such as Ishiba were meeting in the same hall with these opposition members, many of whom are notorious for not even showing up for Diet deliberations.
The Friendship League was formed in 2008 to promote diplomatic normalization with North Korea by political forces descended from the faction led by the once-powerful Shin Kanemaru (1914-1996), who had served as an LDP deputy prime minister and Director-General of the Defense Agency, among other things. The abductee issue was finally out in the open by the time Kanemaru led an LDP/JCP delegation to Pyongyang in September 1990 to confer with Kim Il-sung. But Kanemaru failed to raise the issue with Kim.
Keiji Furuya, a senior LDP member who heads an all-party parliamentary group committed to resolving the abduction issue, laments that even within the ruling parties there are those who are more interested in making a conciliatory approach to Pyongyang for possible economic gains than bringing the abductees home. He explains:
“I remember very vividly when Abe and the League’s Eto crossed swords with each other over North Korea during a formal meeting of the party’s Policy Research Council. Eto held to a conciliatory policy toward Pyongyang but Abe adamantly disagreed, maintaining that conciliation would not resolve anything. To me, it was clear that Abe was right. The League, which has kept a low profile the past ten years, has recently become active again, demanding that a Japan-North Korea summit be held at an early date.”
If we Japanese become too eager for the summit, we will without doubt be taken advantage of and deceived by North Korea, as we have constantly been over the past two decades or longer. What is mandatory at this juncture, I firmly believe, is for all of us to leave the negotiations with the North entirely in the able hands of our prime minister and give him our full support.
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column no. 809 in the July 5, 2018 issue of The Weekly Shincho)