Japan’s Abe more than they bargained for
Posted by ampontan on Friday, February 16, 2007
Overlooked in the media reports of the deal struck in the six-party talks this week is that one of the participants is proving to be a tougher nut to crack than George Bush, Kim Jong-il or the Chinese. That’s Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Japan says it will not participate in the first part of the plan to provide aid to North Korea. In fact, it does not intend to give much of anything to North Korea (other than the cold shoulder) until Pyongyang comes up with a better explanation of the fate of eight people it abducted from Japan in the late 70s. North Korea claimed they died, but all were young, the stories were fishy, the death certificates were bogus, and DNA checks of the remains found they belonged to other people (though the North Koreans had cremated some remains twice to make DNA testing more difficult.)
Of course Pyongyang is pouting. UPI reports that North Korean Foreign Ministry official Ri Pyong Dok says Japan has to match commitment with commitment and action with action. He also notes, “Japan is included among the six parties. This is, I would like to remind you, something agreed on by all six parties.”
Ri also claims that the abduction issue is “already settled” (not in Japan, it isn’t) and there will be no normalization of relations with Japan until there is a “settlement of crimes” (committed during World War II).
One wonders to whom Ri is speaking. He’s not breaking any hearts in Tokyo over a failure to normalize relations. The North Koreans have surely read Abe’s book (Utsukushii kuni e), so they know the Prime Minister’s policy is to be an immovable object. Japan already has imposed economic sanctions on North Korea, which is probably one of the factors that got the Koreans back to the table to begin with. Prime Minister Abe pointedly wrote that people should ask themselves whom sanctions are hurting. We’re not the ones whose lives are going to suffer, he noted.
This week, Abe told the Diet:
“I do not intend to lift the sanctions now. We need to see how North Korea will behave…” Whether there has been progress “will be judged by Japan, not North Korea.”
Some of the left-leaning media suggest that Abe glommed onto the abduction issue as a way to climb his way to the top in politics, but that suggestion rather damages any credibility they may have. (And since they and Abe detest each other, they have very little when he is the topic.) Abe’s political attitudes were formed early in life, and they are such that he considers the abductions to be an unforgivable infringement of Japanese national sovereignty. His beliefs motivated him to become one of the first politicians in Japan to take up the abductees’ cause, even when people in his own party, the center-right LDP, didn’t want to know about it. And North Korean nuclear and missile tests certainly haven’t softened his heart. Abe is acting out of principle, or at least as close to principle as any politician gets anywhere.
Incidentally, if the other members of the six-way talks are counting on reaching an agreement with the North and having Japan foot a major part of the bill, they might want to think twice about that one, too. Abe still remembers Japan’s enormous financial contribution to Kuwait after the Gulf War, sent in lieu of troops because of Constitutional restrictions. He also remembers that when Kuwait placed a full-page ad in American newspapers thanking all the countries who helped them regain sovereignty, Japan’s name was left off the list. It’s going to take some doing for North Korea to pry open the Japanese wallet while Abe is sitting on it.
The North Korean Ri said the abduction issue would be discussed in a working group for normalizing ties between Tokyo and Pyongyang, which will be established as part of the recent deal. He said, “We are willing to be flexible about the timing and place” of the group’s first meeting.
I’ll bet some people thought they would never see the day when North Korea would be more flexible than Japan in negotiations about anything. Well, it’s time to greet the new day.