Thursday, July 08, 2004

Well, she at least is thrilled.

"She" in this case is Hitomi Soga, the simple island girl turned symbol of compromised Japanese national dignity. Tomorrow she will see her children and husband for the first time since her flight from North Korea nearly two years ago.

Abducted along with her mother by North Korean agents in 1978, she grew up, married and raised a family in the black hole of the DPRK. A non-person during her 24-year captivity, she married her English teacher Robert Jenkins, a former American soldier wanted in the U.S. for desertion. Freed from captivity, she has had to contend with being the pivot point in a three-sided tug-of-war between the governments of Japan, the DPRK and the United States.

Tomorrow's meeting represents only a brief, sad timeout from the battle of national agendas. Soga-san will meet her husband and children in a controlled setting in Indonesia, a country with diplomatic relations with Pyongyang and no extradition treaty with the United States.

Japanese of all walks of life should be touched by the aware, the hopeless sadness of this meeting. Soga-san cannot return to the land of her mother's murderers; Jenkins cannot set foot in Japan without the threat of immediate arrest; their daughters are North Koreans through and through.

Japanese should be touched...but they might not be.

Prime minister Koizumi's previous deft command of political gesture has left him. The obvious precipitous rush to have the meeting before Sunday's House of Councillors election has the whole kabuki production smelling bad. It is clear we are being treated to a ham-handed display of maudlin and expensive political theater, directed by the unsubtle kuroko of the LDP elections committee.

Luckily, it seems that the LDP's attempt to distract the voting public with the Soga saga is failing. All the newspapers and critical television news programs are pointing out the synchronization of the family visit with the elections. The public mood, which should be celebratory, is dark and suspicious. The seeming exploitation of Soga-san's personal tragedies for political gain, rather than bolstering the public's opinions of the LDP, may indeed be costing them a few votes.

No comments: