Abe Tries to Move the Needle on Japan’s North Korea Policy, but Will it Matter?

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The abduction issue (rachi mondai) has been a major constraint on Japan’s policy toward North Korea for the last several decades. In the 1970s, a number of Japanese citizens disappeared and it has long been suspected that they were abducted by North Korean agents. The Japanese government eventually confirmed that 17 individuals met this fate. Beginning in 1991, Japanese officials tried to discuss this issue with North Korea in bilateral talks but for years Pyongyang consistently denied the allegation. However, in 2002, North Korea dramatically reversed its longstanding position when Kim Jong Il admitted to then Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi that a part of its intelligence agency had, in fact, abducted Japanese citizens.

Over the following two years, Koizumi brought back 5 of 17 confirmed abductee victims and their families to Japan. However, Japan and North Korea have been unable to reach an agreement on the remaining 12 victims. The North has insisted that the issue was resolved with Kim Il Sung’s confession, his apology for the abductions, and the return of the 5 victims—and maintains that the remaining 12 either never entered North Korea or have passed away. Japan has rejected Pyongyang’s claim, and has continued to push for the return of the remaining 12 citizens. Because the highest-profile victim, Megumi Yokota, was believed to be abducted when she was only 13, the abduction issue has not only become highly emotional for the victims’ families, but also politically sensitive for the Japanese government.

This article was originally published by 38 North on May 31, 2019. Read the full article here.

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