It seemed inevitable...and yet the day never came.
It seemed it would never come.
It was going to happen one day, over some incident or demand -- the day when the populace of Japan decided it heard enough of the sob stories of the families of the abductees -- the persons kidnapped by North Korean agents in the 1970s as a part of a seemingly ad hoc program of providing North Korean agents with unwilling instructors of Japanese language and customs. While five of these kidnapped persons eventually returned to Japan, the majority, according to the DPRK government, did not survive their captivity. The demands for the parents and siblings of these unreturned kidnappees have held successive Japanese governments hostage to pursue a hopeless and unrealistic total struggle against the government of the DPRK until the abductee problem is resolved to the families' satisfaction.
Long the darlings of the right wing in Japanese politics, for whom the vivid demonization of the DPRK was a convenient cover for a weakening of post-1945 Japanese pacifism, the families and the government seem to have crossed the Rubicon this week. They invited to Japan Kim Hyon Hui, the convicted DPRK assassin, who, posing as a Japanese traveler, planted a bomb on KAL jetliner in 1988, killing all 115 persons aboard the aircraft. To make matters worse, the families met with Kim at the country home of former prime minister Hatoyama Yukio in the exclusive and expensive resort town of Karuizawa.
Kim certainly had direct ties with one of the abductees, Taguchi Taeko, who was her teacher of Japanese in Pyongyang. Indeed it was Kim's confession that she had learned her Japanese from a woman abducted from Japan that punched the first hole in the Japanese government's assertions that the abductee problem did not exist, that the missing persons were not kidnapped, just missing. As a member of the special espionage branch Kim certainly knew of the other abducted Japanese. However, since she has been interviewed almost incessantly since her arrest, she certainly had nothing new to tell the families of those who did not return. There was certainly no reason to bring her to Japan, considering her terrorist past.
In bringing the pardoned Kim to Japan and entertaining her in such lavish style when she has nothing of substance of offer the government of Japan or the families of the abductees, except yet another opportunity for someone to repeat a maudlin retelling of the Yokota Megumi story, the government and the abductee families seem to have blown the collective fuses of economics-problems-focused public.
Need it be said that the opposition Liberal Democratic Party of Japan, which itself had once been in the thrall of the abductee issue, is having a field day criticizing the current government for its solicitude toward Kim?
In the records of public relations and media management failures, this visit looks like one for the textbooks -- on how even a completely controlled, can't miss event can dissolve into a media circus and a public embarrassment.
Which begs the questions --
1) Why can't the DPJ do PR?
2) Will this overstaged visit be the abductee families' last hurrah?