Thursday, July 22, 2010

The abductee issue hits the wall

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?


Joe said...

Well, you gotta wonder: she's been in (protective) custody for the last 23 years. How could she possibly give any assurance that the other abductees are still alive? Are the families that desperate/gullible that they are willing to take the statement of a person far from trustworthy, or even up to date, as gospel truth?

I feel bad for the families, I really do. But they have got to let go and stop letting themselves be used by other people.

Anonymous said...

It feels callous to think that it is time for them all to move on, I'm not sure I could do that so easily. But if they are used for nothing more than pawns in LDP and DPJ games - and to fulfill some sort of media lust for tragedy - then it would probably be best. I can't personally see a time when N Korea will ever be open about this.

Anonymous said...

I would suggest you should rephrase your question "Why can't the DPJ and LDP make policy?"
PR is the mess of a mass murderer making dinner for the Yokotas and the Hatoyamas at the summer home of a multi millionaire. What a conversation that must have been!
Mrs Hatoyama: I was abducted by aliens!
Mrs Yokota: My daughter was abducted by North Koreans!

Policy failure on this issue is how could the successive governments been held to an impossible standard by the abductee families? Even if there could be confirmation that the abductees have been deceased the issue would then move on to repatriation of their remains, and then if remains are found are they actually the remains of the abductees, and then are all the pieces there, and then were they treated properly, ad infinitum.
I believe we have already gone through this with the involvement of the head priest at Yasukuni.

The families have endured unbelievable tragedy at the hands of the North Koreans and their own governments. There is NOTHING that will ever satisfy them but in the meantime that does not mean they won't try to find something to hold on to.

The policy failures on other issues have been well-covered; for those interested in analysis just drift through the entries on this site. For those interested in cynicism and outrage go to Our Man in Abiko.

Jan Moren said...

"Policy failure on this issue is how could the successive governments been held to an impossible standard by the abductee families? "

Put it this way: Let's say it's found out North Koreans have kidnapped half a dozen Americans, including a couple of children, from US soil. Some are quite possibly still alive and still imprisoned. Would a US government

a) Say to their voters that "oh it's too bad, but we can't let this issue overshadow our negotiations" ;

b) put the country under a military blockade and preemptively detain any North Korean (especially including the leaders' family members) currently abroad; or

a) restart the Korean war.

With all due respect over the frustration this issue is causing, but it's really not something you can sweep away and ignore.