[Viewpoint]Nuclear issue should be Japan’s priority

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[Viewpoint]Nuclear issue should be Japan’s priority

One of the questions that the Japanese ask me most frequently is, “Why is Korea so indifferent to the issue of South Koreans kidnapped by North Korea?” This question puts me at a loss.
It may be too naive to answer by saying we know there are about 500 or so South Korean abductees in the North, while there are 10 from Japan. Then they will certainly grill me with the question, “If that is the case, isn’t it right that the public voice in South Korea for the safe return of the abductees should be 50 times louder than that in Japan?”
The history of national division has brought the people of Korea countless numbers of tragedies. One half of their hearts were paralyzed by the tragedies’ impact a long time ago, while the other half has been gradually blackened by bruises. Would they agree with me, I wonder, if I told them that Japan was also responsible for the division of the Korean Peninsula when we trace back the history?
The rage Japanese people have about the kidnapping of their own people is understandable. The pain is still alive and breathing in their hearts. It is a wound that still hurts their hearts; it has not yet turned into a scab. How can they forget their outrage when they were told a 13-year-old girl who had disappeared on her way home from school had been kidnapped to a foreign land and had committed suicide after 25 years in captivity?
It is obviously the duty of the government to press North Korea all the way, demanding that the country return the kidnap victim if she is still alive or otherwise provide evidence of her death.
Therefore, it is inappropriate to approach the issue by saying, “Korea has many more victims but is staying quiet, so why is Japan making such a fuss?”
This is the limit of what I can understand of the Japanese way of thinking.
It isn’t easy to understand the logic of connecting the kidnapping issue with the urgent problem of North Korean nuclear disarmament, which is related to the peace and security of Northeast Asia.
For the first time since the six-party talks was launched three and a half years ago, an agreement was produced on Feb. 13.
Although the agreement is full of blind spots and there remain many problems, its significance cannot be underestimated.
There was a rumor that Japan would not participate in providing aid for North Korea even before the opening of the talks, and the rumor proved to be correct. Japanese politicians, including Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, have stressed whenever there was an opportunity that they “cannot pay a dime if the kidnapping issue is not resolved.”
Due to this attitude of Japan, even the formula for reaching the agreement looked odd. A separate attachment to the agreement was made, and it stated clearly that Japan would not participate in giving aid.
According to some Korean government officials involved, Japan even talked about “withdrawing” altogether the night before the announcement of the agreement.
Therefore, it must have been no exaggeration that reaching an agreement among the five countries was harder than reaching an agreement with North Korea.
Why did Japan insist on such a hard line posture?
Most officials concerned say it was because Japan gave priority to domestic political considerations.
The dynamics of Japanese domestic politics are such that the firmer attitude the politicians take about the kidnapping issue, the higher their approval ratings climb.
The attitude of no-compromise on the kidnapping issue was the starting point when Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration came into being. Moreover, they will have to face local elections in April and elections to the Upper House of the National Diet in July.
There is another interpretation: it asserts Japan that has taken one foot out of the talks on purpose and waved its hand in order to lessen its burden when the implementation of the agreement gets underway. After the talks, it was reported that the Japanese negotiating team was quite pleased with the agreement for this reason.
But is this really something to be happy about? What would happen if Japan maintains its existing position, even if the solution to the North Korean nuclear problem goes into full swing?
There is no guarantee that Japan’s voice will not be weakened by this and that its position as a member of the six-way talks will suffer.
Diplomats frequently say, “All diplomatic actions are a continuation of domestic politics,” a sharp observation that could be made about Japan. However, this proposition does not have to be observed at all times.
We do not have to choose one or the other of the two; North Korean nuclear problem on one hand and the kidnapping issue on the other. Both are problems that should be solved.
However, putting the North Korean nuclear problem first at the six-way talks was the right thing to do. It is the right thing not only for the peace of Northeast Asia, but also for the national interests of Japan.

*The writer is the Tokyo correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Yeh Young-june
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