In 1979, a mob of wild-eyed whooping loonies seized 52 Americans and held them as hostages for 444 days. The most testosterone-deficient U.S. president in living memory made securing their freedom his all-consuming priority in office, as the news media led with the story every night for over a year. He froze Iranian assets and even launched a disastrous military mission to free them. His failure to do so destroyed his presidency.
In September 2002, Kim Jong Il admitted that his government’s spies had kidnapped Megumi Yokota and 12 other Japanese citizens to serve as instructors for North Korean spies. The admission — which many saw as incomplete — sparked widespread Japanese outrage and has brought Japan to the brink of imposing economic sanctions. Demands for the return of the hostages and their remains were ferocious. An award-winning film about Megumi Yokota’s abduction is making headlines in Japan today.
A few of the abductees actually returned home alive. The North Koreans claimed, dubiously, that the others had died, and that most of their bodies had washed away in floods. Under intense Japanese pressure, the North Koreans finally returned two sets of cremated remains, including one set it claimed were those of Yokota. Perhaps the North Koreans did not believe that enough bone fragments would remain for DNA tests, but they did, and the bones’ DNA did not match those of the abductees. (So whose remains were they, one wonders?)
The sum of these events has been a complete shift in Japanese policy toward North Korea.
Now, pause for a study of contrasts. Trust me — this is all leading somewhere.
The North also holds South Korean hostages. Unlike the Japanese abductees, who may number in the dozens, the South Korean abductees number in the hundreds (or, to be precise, 486). They include prisoners of war held in violation of the Korean War armistice, children, and fishermen. Some were passengers on a plane that was hijacked to Pyongyang in 1969.
In contrast to the Japanese reaction, South Korea has neither imposed, threatened, or discussed sanctions to secure the release of its citizens. There is no public outrage on their behalf. And perhaps not coincidentally, South Korea has accomplished much less on behalf of its citizens. Some have been allowed brief, tightly-supervised visits with their family members, an event that was marred by North Korean fury that South Korean reporters dared to call the South Korean abductees, “abductees.” Worse, South Korean officials tried to pressure the reporters to choose false words to soothe the feelings of the kidnappers.
Otherwise, the only South Korean abductees to have returned to the arms of their loved ones are those who have escaped. For those whose efforts did not quite succeed, there was little assistance from their government.
Fast-forward to today. We appear to be on the verge of answering a nagging question.
After DNA testing, Tokyo has concluded that Kim Chol-jun, identified by North Korea as the husband of Japanese abductee Megumi Yokota, who according to the North married Mr. Kim in 1986 but committed suicide in 1994, is not a North Korean as Pyongyang has claimed but an abducted South Korean, several sources in Japan said yesterday.
“After conducting DNA tests on family members of five abducted South Koreans, one matched the DNA of the daughter of Mr. Kim,” said a source yesterday. Tokyo officials obtained DNA samples from Kim Hye-gyong, the daughter of Mr. Kim, in 2002 during an interview in Pyongyang. Starting in February, Tokyo collected DNA samples of the family members here in order to test its suspicion.
Let me close this post with just two questions:
1. What does anyone suppose the South Koreans will do about this?
2. What would have happened if the remains had turned out to be those of another, unacknowledged, Japanese abductee?
If you can answer those questions accurately, you can also accurately estimate how much the South Korean government values to lives and freedom of its citizens.