MEGUMI YOKOTA ALIVE 45 YEARS AFTER ABDUCTION BY NORTH KOREA
Megumi Yokota is alive and well. In 1977, when she was 13, Megumi was abducted in Niigata Prefecture by North Korean agents.
That was the critical point of a front-page scoop in the June 27th edition of the Sekai Nippo, which reported that “all Japanese abductees are living a good life in Pyongyang.” The daily attributed the news to Kim Guk-song, who was identified as a former top foreign intelligence officer attached to the Reconnaissance General Bureau (RGB) of North Korean’s Workers’ Party (KWP).
When then Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and his Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe visited the North in September 2002, North Korean leader Kim Jong-il initially informed them simply that eight Japanese abductees, including Megumi and Keiko Arimoto, had all died. The daily quoted Guk-song as saying: “Everything the North Koreans told Japan at the time was a blatant lie, including Megumi’s grave having been washed away by a flood and Megumi having once been admitted to a mental hospital. Everything was complete hogwash.”
Guk-song further testified that “all of the abducted Japanese are living with their children in Pyongyang” with the Workers’ Party of Korea (KWP) making sure “they do not experience any inconvenience in what they eat, what they wear, and what they have available in terms of daily necessities, enabling them to live an enviable upper-class life by North Korean standards.” As regards Megumi, the former intelligence officer said: “There are stories about her that will surprise everybody.” Sakie Yokota, Megumi’s 86-year-old mother, had this to say:
“Given that our daughter has not been allowed to come home despite our all-out efforts to obtain her release over such a long span of time, I suspect the North Koreans must have been using her for some important purposes. That thought haunts me to no end. Based on a mother’s hunch, however, I am convinced that Megumi hasn’t resorted to any drastic means, such as a suicide, to relieve her of her loneliness and suffering. Because Megumi has the ability to prudently assess and methodically figure out countermeasures whatever situation she may be in, I don’t believe she has taken any extreme measures, no matter how agonizing her situation has been.”
Tsutomu Nishioka, a leading expert on the situation in the Korean Peninsula who heads the National Association for the Rescue of Japanese Kidnapped by North Korea (NARKN) and concurrently serves as a visiting professor of Reitaku University in Tokyo, gives a detailed account of Kim Guk-song’s background in his latest book, Why South Korean Presidents Are Arrested (Soshisha, Tokyo; June 2022). Nishioka states that Kim Guk-song is a pseudonym but that there is no doubt he once had been an influential official of North Korea‘s central foreign intelligence outfit before defecting to the South.
After graduating from the Kim Jong-il University of Military Politics—a spy training school in Pyongyang —Guk-song started his career in intelligence operations as an operations planning officer with the KWP’s International Liaison Department. After serving in that post for 21 years, he was promoted to secretary of the 5th station of the RGB with the rank of colonel and charged with strategic planning. In late September 2014, he defected to the South.
How savagely Kim Jong-un treated his uncle Chang Song-thaek, a major figure in his
administration before his sudden dismissal and execution in December 2013, prompted
Guk-song to defect. He and Chang were like brothers for over 30 years while he was stationed in Beijing with his family, explains Nishioka. After escaping from the evil hands of Jong-un to Seoul, Guk-song got a job with the National Strategies Institute affiliated with the South Korean National Intelligence Service (NIS). Quickly disenchanted by the pro-North Korean policy of President Moon Jae-in. Guk-song left the institute in late September 2014.
Nishioka points out:
“In an interview with the BBC last year, Guk-song revealed that the South is so politically subordinated to the North that Pyongyang sees no need to send its operatives any longer. He listed concrete examples of clandestine activities of North Korean operatives, including himself, in the South, such as the impeachment of then President Park Guen-hye in 2016. There is no question that Guk-song was at the center of North Korea’s intelligence operations against the South.”
While denying that he himself was involved in the North’s abduction of Japanese citizens in the 1970s and 1980s, Guk-song claims to having been ordered to propose how the abduction issue could be resolved with Japan. The daily quoted him as explaining:
“Kim Jong-il first asked this question of O Kuk-ryol, Director of the WPK’s Operations Department, who instructed me to make proposals. I proposed to O that we admit having abducted the Japanese and allow them to return to Japan (temporarily). O told me Kim Jong-il said, ‘That will do.’”
During the morning session of their first summit in Pyongyang, Kim Jong-il neither referred to nor admitted to the North having abducted Japanese citizens over the years. While Koizumi and Abe, who later served as prime minister (2006-2007, 2012－2020), retreated to lunch alone in a separate guest room, Abe, fully aware the North Koreans were eavesdropping on them, proposed to Koizumi: “Mr. Prime Minister, if they refuse to admit that North Korea is accountable for the abduction, I think we should just go back to Tokyo without signing the ‘Pyongyang Declaration.’”
As a result, the North Korean dictator made the admission and apologized at the outset of the afternoon session of the summit. That is what was officially made public following the summit. But behind the scenes, the North Koreans were plotting to have Sakie and her husband Shigeru, Megumi’s parents, brought to Pyongyang. (Shigeru died last year at 87.)
Megumi’s North Korean husband reportedly suggested to Megumi’s parents that if they came to Pyongyang they would be able to pay their last respects to Megumi’s ashes, which he was in possession of. But Sakie strongly opposed that idea, saying: “My intuition told me that, if I complied, the North would conveniently use our visit as proof of our accepting Megumi’s death.”
The North next proposed a trip back to Japan for five abductees, including Kaoru Hasuike. But they were to return to Pyongyang only after a stay of several days at the most. The five subsequently refused to comply, deciding to remain in Japan for good once they had set foot on Japanese soil. As Hasuike later confided, he had been instructed to persuade Megumi’s parents to accept the invitation to visit Pyongyang. But that secret mission went down the drain when the five decided against returning to the North.
The next card North Korea tried to play was Megumi’s daughter, Kim Eun-gyong. North Korea tried to lure the elderly couple to Pyongyang ostensibly to give them a chance to meet up with their granddaughter but Sakie again was adamantly against accepting the invitation. She knew too well that their visit would be used to confirm the North’s conclusion that “the abduction issue has been resolved and the eight abductees are dead.”
Government Responsible to Obtain Release of All Abductees
A long time passed before Megumi’s parents finally managed to meet up with their granddaughter—not in Japan or North Korea, but in Ulan Bator, Mongolia, of all places. Recalls Sakie:
“Eun-gyong was just like Megumi. And the little daughter she brought with her—our great grandchild—was extremely gentle and well-behaved for her age, convincing us that Eun-gyong is bringing her up very lovingly. I told Eun-gyong that ‘your grandmother (Sakie herself) does not believe your mother (Megumi) is dead. In fact, I believe she is quite alive and doing well.’ Eun-gyong looked very surprised to hear me say so. I actually think she was more than a little agitated by my remarks, as she failed to show up for breakfast the following morning. I was able to see her back to her usual self the following day, though. There are a lot of things I have yet to be able to make public concerning how our meeting with Eun-gyong went.”
“I think we truly spent an incredible time in Mongolia. It’s hard to put into words. My husband was as happy as I was to get the chance to interact with Eun-gyong and her daughter—our great-granddaughter. That meeting could not but make me wonder why the North wouldn’t allow Megumi to be with us back in Japan when in Mongolia everything went so smoothly with our granddaughter and great-granddaughter.”
The real significance of the scoop by The Sekai Nippo is that someone who once was an influential North Korean intelligence officer volunteered to come forward and declare that the Japanese abductees are alive and well in Pyongyang. It was the first time that someone who once held an influential position in the North’s intelligence circles testified that everything the North has told Japan regarding its abduction is a lie. We should take note of what Kim Guk-song said about the North’s thinking:
“In North Korean politics, those who are presumed dead are actually alive, and what actually exists is pronounced nonexistent.”
On its part, the NARKN has steadfastly believed that Megumi, Keiko Arimoto, Rumiko Masumoto and the rest of the abductees are alive, rightfully demanding that North Korea release all of them immediately and urging our government to play its part resolutely. All of we Japanese—the government and the people alike—must focus on the single objective of bringing every one of them back to Japan safely, holding a firm conviction that they are alive and that it is the responsibility of the government to obtain their release.
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column no. 1,006 in the July 7, 2022 issue of The