Abductions Japan & Korea

NK Hints More Japanese Abductees May Be Freed

The Japanese NGO ReACH, which advocates on behalf of the families of Japanese abducted by the North Korean regime, is active in Washington D.C. and sometimes sends me e-mails with interesting information.  Today, they inform me that the award-winning “Abduction: The Megumi Yokota Story” will air on the PBS program Independent Lens on Tuesday, June 19th, at 10 p.m. Eastern.  (If anyone can find links for listings in their local areas, I’d appreciate it if you’d post them in the comments.)  

This week, the Chosun Ilbo  reported that Ms. Yokota was seen alive as recently as 1994, two months after the North Koreans said the committed suicide, and that she was not well:

According to the newspaper, Fukie Chimura (52), another abduction victim, told Japanese authorities at the end of last year that Yokota moved in next door to her in June 1994. “She lived there for several months, but I don’t know her whereabouts after that,” Chimura was quoted as saying. “She was suffering severe depression and was mentally unstable.” She added a senior North Korean intelligence official was monitoring her.  [Chosun Ilbo]

For us, the story of these abductees is a chronology with a lot of very long gaps.  For them and for their families, this has been  a daily  torture  driving the innocent to madness and despair. 

In the context of regime-sustaining aid from China and South Korea and eventual betrayal by the Bush Administration,  it is  remarkable that Japan has had any success at all  at freeing its people from  North Korea, but it has had some. 

In 2004, former Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi went to Pyongyang, promising aid if the abductees were released and threatening sanctions if they weren’t.  He brought back five abductees, including Hitomi Soga, who  had married U.S. Army deserter Charles Robert Jenkins during her captivity.  But the North Koreans seem to have a compulsive attraction to  exhibitionist brutality and obnoxiousness.  They complained, for example,  that Japan didn’t send the freed hostages  back into captivity.  Later,  they sent Japan  a box of ashes  they claimed were Megumi’s, but which turned out to be those of some poor unmourned  soul who died from God-knows-what.  That  may have been the insult that brought Japan’s rage to a full boil, rage that was expressed in the quiet, effective way that is characteristic of modern Japan. 

In that context, aid to North Korea became politically unthinkable.  Japan eventually severed most trade relations with North Korea, barred North Korean ships from its waters, and largely ran the North Korean front organization Chosen Soren, a/k/a Chongryon, out of business.

For years, the United States publicly and staunchly  stood by its most important Pacific ally in demanding the release of the abductees, but after last year’s State Department policy shift, America withdrew all but meaningful  support by de-linking North Korea’s abductions to its inclusion on the list of state sponsors of terror.*   The shift has left Japan feeling isolated and betrayed, and shows signs of doing significant damage to U.S.-Japan relations.   To keep up appearances, Chris Hill created a “working group” with the rather obvious aim of marginalizing  the issue, but North Korea has never really  been a good-faith participant

But the issue of the abductees is emotional to Japan, and Japan has stuck to its guns.  Today, there is an indication that Japan’s principled and determined protection of its citizens may pay dividends:

North Korea has given the U.S. information about several Japanese, believed to be abductees, living in North Korea and may send them home, a Japanese newspaper reported on Tuesday.  [….]

North Korea appears to be trying to bolster the impression that it is making progress on the abduction issue and hoping to encourage the U.S. to remove it from its list of state sponsors of terrorism, the newspaper said, though it is unclear whether the news will actually lead to the return of more abductees.  [Chosun Ilbo]

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, who is representing the United States in the six-nation talks, is scheduled to visit Beijing on Tuesday, and will hold talks with North Korea’s representative, Kim Kye Gwan, during his stay. In addition to the topic of a declaration on North Korea’s nuclear programs, the issues of abducted Japanese and the treatment of Japanese in Pyongyang linked to the 1970 hijacking of Japan Airlines “Yodo-go” flight were expected to be discussed.

Government sources said that information on the new abduction victims was conveyed to the United States last autumn. The Japanese government has taken the stance that all of the abduction victims are alive and is demanding their immediate return to Japan.  [Mainichi Daily]

Amazingly, these people aren’t  even among  those 12 the Japanese government officially recognizes as abduction victims.  The Japanese government suspects that the North Koreans have abducted dozens of other Japanese, as this pamphlet provided by the Japanese Embassy illustrates.  According to the Mainichi, Japan “strongly” suspects that North Korea has abducted 36 missing Japanese are abductees, and that as many as 470 more may be abductees.

Although the Japanese government says that the return of all “surving” abductees will settle Japan’s main concerns, the likely Japanese reaction will be to wonder how many of their “missing” fellow citizens the North Koreans really are holding.  As with every North Korean assurance, Japanese will be left wondering why they should believe the North Koreans this time, after they’ve been  told so many lies.  As Japan Probe reminds us, North Korea had said for years that there were no others.

As with any reported agreement with North Korea, this should be viewed with extreme skepticism.   Maybe this is all talk aimed at creating the appearance of progress, just like it was last year.  For North Korea, the calculus is always “what can we afford not to concede?”  Less South Korean aid, less food, and less money  this year means that North Korea  can’t afford not to concede as much as it could in 2007.   But with the United States  desperate to let Kim Jong Il off the hook, it’s questionable whether these Japanese citizens, who were guilty of nothing more than being alone at the wrong place and time, will ever see their families again.


  1. Even at some of our worst points in dealing with North Korea, the US government felt enough duty to our military servicemen to continue to pay North Korea to allow US teams to dig for the bodies of dead GIs killed during the Korean War or to pay NK to dig and return the remains.

    Yet, elsewhere in this same government, we openly and without qualms stab Japan in the back over its effort to get back living and breathing citizens kidnapped from its shores.

    All of this includes the State Department at some point.

    But, the responsibility rests with the man sitting behind the desk in the Oval Office….


  2. I plan on watching/recording the “Megumi Yokota” story when it does air in my area. From what I have read about it, it is such a sad story. I feel sorry for Megumi and her family. Do you think she might still be alive? Whatever happened to her, I do think the North Korean government is lying about it.


  3. In relation to my last comment, it struck me today when I briefly pictured a scene I remember reading about Christopher Hill and how he came to be the central figure in our North Korea policy. The reporter described it as Hill sitting around the table with people from different departments as they thought over what to do with Pyongyang, and Hill is quoted as saying something like, “Just let me go over there. I can get a deal with him” and the others at the table rolled their eyes.

    Eye rolling would have fit, but look what happened subsequently — Hill went and cut his deal and has been in control of pretty much all North Korea policy in our government ranging from money laundering to food aid and so on…

    But the buck stops at Bush’s desk —– He is the one who allows people to set the big agenda(s) of his government.

    If he had wanted to, he could have empowered Jay Lefkowitz into the, or at least a, central player in NK policy.

    Instead, he let the hubris of one man and those who were persuaded by him —-

    —- undo years of careful, painstaking efforts — that had finally started to show results.

    It really is something to consider.

    After all those years of patience. All those years of taking criticism for “not having a NK policy” from the microwave generation.

    To have it all undone by a guy who is quoted to have simply believed his sitting down face-to-face with North Koreans would be stronger, more efficient, and most lasting than those ears of slowly setting up the screws on North Korea.

    And it is even more amazing when you consider that this change in policy came along with a further ICBM test and nuke test.

    A pretty major victory for Pyongyang and its geopolitical style – as I am sure Pyongyang sees it.

    And if I were Tokyo, I’d have to think the Bush administration might just be as stupid as critics have long claimed (though that might not be my own personal view…….from across the Pacific, it must look that way to our once key ally Japan).


  4. If I were Tokyo, I’d get on the stick and start resolving their little problem with Japanese nationals abducting children from international marriages with the approval of their courts:


    I’m sure this will be immediately forthcoming as the Japanese (and their uncritical supporters in the comments section here) wouldn’t want to appear hypocritical on this matter.

    Note: I am fully and completely in support of Japan getting back their people but, please, why should the USA be held to a standard that the Japanese aren’t held to when they say one thing on the matter of abductions and another when it suits them.


  5. How is this remotely comparable or relevant to the topic of the post? So you got into a bad marriage that ended in a custody dispute? I’m very sorry. I’m sure that must have been very painful. I’m sure custody disputes are always especially painful when the parents’ home countries are separated by an ocean. It’s also completely irrelevant to the subject at hand.



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