What was Kato Koichi thinking?
Posted by ampontan on Thursday, July 17, 2008
IT IS CURIOUS how otherwise level-headed men can skate so close to the thin ice of irrationality just to embrace indefensible concessions to tyrannical thug-states in the name of diplomacy.
The classic example is Neville Chamberlain and his misguided effort to hold civil discussions with Herr Hitler. A more modern instance has been the Europeans’ insistence on using “soft power”—such a contradiction in terms—to deal with Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and that country’s nuclear weapons program.
There are people in East Asia with the same disorder. One politician in Japan exhibits the full-blown set of symptoms: Kato Koichi, a member of the lower house of the Japanese Diet and the former secretary-general of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.
In the face of all evidence and lucid observation, Mr. Kato takes Japan’s previous political leadership to task for its behavior towards North Korea while making excuses for the latter country. No, Mr. Kato is not talking about the annexation/colonization period that ended more than a half-century ago. He’s talking about events that occurred in the 21st century.
He well and truly stepped in it last week. He asserted during a television interview that after North Korea had allowed five Japanese it had seized and held for more than 20 years to return for what was supposed to be a brief visit, Japan should have kicked its own innocent citizens out of their own country and sent them back to their overseas dungeon, willing or not.
The ensuing uproar was not as intense as might have been expected, if only because most Japanese were already aware of Mr. Kato’s delicate condition. The abductees’ parents were livid, of course, and one went so far as to question Mr. Kato’s allegiances.
But that was nothing compared to Mr. Kato’s reaction. In for a penny, in for a pound, they say, so the politician upped the ante by claiming that Jiji Press misrepresented his comments by selectively quoting them. He insisted that everyone would be able to understand the righteousness of his position when they saw the entire context of the interview.
So he uploaded the relevant section of the interview to his website, which Japanese readers can see here. Mr. Kato thought that would exonerate him with the public. If anything, however, it makes him look even worse than the Jiji article did.
But let’s go back to the beginning. The issue involves North Korea’s abduction of Japanese citizens, mostly on Japanese soil, from 1977 to 1983. The Japanese government officially recognizes 16 prisoners, though as many as 70 or 80 may have been snatched. The abducted Japanese are thought to have been used to teach their language and culture to North Korean agents.
After years of denial, Kim Jong-il finally came clean in 17 September 2002 and said yes, a few of our agents got carried away with themselves and snuck into Japan and brought some people back against their will. He had to cop to it if he expected relations with Japan to improve enough to enable the receipt of food aid and other assistance for his slum nation. The North Koreans also provided death certificates for another eight people, but Norbert Vollertsen, a German doctor who worked in that country from 1999 to 2001, immediately spotted them as forgeries. (Pyeongyang later admitted it.)
A month later, the North Koreans allowed five of the abductees to return to Japan for a few weeks on the condition that they be sent back. They were Chimura Yasushi, his wife Fukie, Hasuike Kaoru, his wife Yukiko, and Soga Hitomi.
Once they were home again in Japan, however, public opinion would not allow them to leave. That’s assuming any of them were interested in boarding the return flight, even to see their children. North Korea claimed this violated the terms of the deal, so they cut their nose off to spite their face and refused to continue talks. One of the few diplomatic skills exhibited by that country is their alacrity in walking out of negotiations.
You’d think they’d have figured out by now that no one really wants to talk to them anyway.
But a problem remained because the children of the abductees were kept behind in North Korea. They included the three children of the Chimura family and the two children of the Hasuike family, who were allowed to rejoin their parents in Japan in May 2004. There were additional complications regarding Soga Hitomi’s two daughters and her husband Charles Jenkins, a deserter from the American Army, but they were finally reunited that July and returned to Japan.
Here’s the bee in Mr. Kato’s bonnet: He maintains that Japan should have returned the five to the North Korean gulag. He thought that Japan’s broken promise convinced the North Koreans the country was untrustworthy, and sullied its international reputation. He thinks the abduction issue would have been quickly resolved because the North Koreans were afraid of an American attack and were eager to deal.
Wait, there’s more. Here’s how he concluded that part of the television interview:
The six-party talks would have been held in Japan, Japan would have solved Asia’s most intractable problem…a nuclear North Korea–one of the world’s most serious issues–would have been denuclearized, and we could have gotten the world to say, hey, Japan is capable of making things happen too, isn’t it?
Perhaps there also would have been a parade of unicorns down the Ginza and a brace of rainbows festooning the eastern sky.
Let’s hope this disease isn’t contagious. One or two sufferers a generation is quite enough.
How could Mr. Kato be so oblivious of reality as to behave decently toward a country that has never behaved decently for a single day of its existence? The Frankenstein monster created in the northern end of the Korean Peninsula has never abided by any international commitment, yet Mr. Kato thinks Japan was supposed to have stepped on the faces of its own people (one of whom was on the verge of malnutrition) and pushed them back into the cesspool just to keep its own word to Kim Jong-il?
Facts on the face of it
The infiltration of another country by secret agents to kidnap private citizens minding their own business—non-combatants, let’s not forget—and force them to train others to conduct terrorist acts against their own country is an act of war under anyone’s definition.
North Korea denied the abductions for decades while threatening to turn Japan into a sea of fire. To make sure everyone got the point, it launched missiles both into the Sea of Japan and over the archipelago into the Pacific Ocean.
They were afraid of an attack by the United States? North Korea has shared nuclear weapon and missile technology with Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, and Syria, none of which are stable and most of which regard the concept of world peace as outside the sphere of their national interest. They also ignored the declaration for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and the framework agreement with the United States by continuing their nuclear weapons program.
In addition, the North Koreans reap an estimated 100 million dollars annually by counterfeiting U.S. currency, primarily $100 dollar bills. They’ve also diversified their bogus bill portfolio to include counterfeit yen, Thai baht, and euros.
The only reason they’ve never been torched by one of those cowboy American presidents is that their border is so close to Seoul.
That is the country Mr. Kato wants Japan to treat with honor and respect.
But Japan has no obligation to treat with honor and respect a country and its malevolent oligarchy that neither honors nor respects any other country, any of its international commitments, the normal conduct of diplomatic affairs between nations–and any of its own citizens, for that matter.
The alternate reality
Forget for a second Mr. Kato’s delirium about a successful conclusion of the six-party talks under Japanese leadership had the abductees been returned to North Korea. Consider the more realistic scenario:
Public incredulity and anger would have combined to end the life of the Koizumi Administration. That would have been followed by months, and perhaps years, of political turmoil, which would have adversely impacted the economy. The domestic eruption would have rendered the nation incapable of dealing with any other issue. Perhaps that’s what the North Koreans were hoping might happen.
Soga Hitomi for one might well have refused to go back. (She detests North Korea so much she has always refused to speak Korean to her two daughters, both born in Pyeongyang.) It is not so far-fetched to conceive that she would have gone into hiding rather than return.
Now picture the scene of Japanese authorities scouring the country to apprehend her and forcibly send her back.
All this would have been covered every day in meticulous detail by the Japanese mass media. Someone surely would have found a way to film or photograph her being prodded onto an airplane bound for Pyeongyang International Airport.
Then consider: How would Japan then have gone about securing the second return of the abductees, this time with all seven children and Ms. Soga’s husband, Charles Jenkins?
Would Mr. Kato have had his country rely on the non-existent honor of the North Koreans? Did he even imagine the terms North Koreans would have dictated realizing it had the upper hand and knowing that the tenor of Japanese public opinion would have left no choice but capitulation?
Happily ever after
Thankfully, no one had to deal with that nightmare. Instead, the former abductees and their families are living peaceful, well-fed, and anonymous lives in Japan. Even Charles Jenkins was granted permanent residence status earlier this week.
Kato Koichi nearly became prime minister of Japan in 2000. Some people sigh with regret that he never had the chance to lead the country.
Regret? The Japanese should thank their lucky stars they were spared the leadership of a man whose struggles with the Chamberlain Syndrome rendered him so obviously ill-equipped to provide it.