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The stolen Japanese became hostages of the nuclear issue

Tokyo and Pyongyang link North Korean nuclear missile problem with stolen Japanese

Along with the territorial problem in relations with Russia (Tokyo claims the four islands of the southern Kuriles), the most significant foreign policy priority for any Japanese Prime Minister over the last decades is the solution of the problem of the Japanese kidnapped by the North Korean special services 70-80-s of the last century with the purpose of training North Korean spies Japanese language.

The stolen Japanese became hostages of the nuclear issue
Photo: Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s trip to Pyongyang /

Valery Kistanov

Head of the Center for Japanese Studies of the Institute of Far Eastern Studies
For a long time, this problem was massively covered in the Japanese media and was accompanied by the demands of the public to return the unfortunates to their homeland or at least to clarify their fate. As a result, her decision became a national idea, and the name of the politician, who could do it without exaggeration, will be written in gold letters on the tablets of Japanese history. Realizing this, at the beginning of the zero years of this century, the then charismatic Prime Minister of Japan Junichiro Koizumi ventured even twice to go to Pyongyang.

On September 17, 2002, for the first time in the history of Koizumi, he met in Pyongyang with the then leader of North Korea, Kim Jong Il. He visited the DPRK for the second time in May 2004. The five kidnapping victims returned to Japan in October 2002, just a month after Koizumi's first visit, and their family members came to Japan in 2004 after his second trip. Since then, however, none of the kidnapped Japanese citizens have been allowed to return to their homeland. In total, the Japanese list of compatriots abducted by the North Korean special services includes 17 people. 

During Koizumi’s visit, North Korea admitted that the five abductees were alive, but stated that eight others, including Japanese Megumi Yokota, had died. At a meeting with Koizumi, Kim apologized for the abductions of the Japanese, which occurred in 1970 and 1980's.

At the moment, Japanese analysts fear that the problem of the kidnapped may be put aside for a long time due to the aggravation of the situation on the Korean Peninsula due to nuclear tests and the launch of ballistic missiles by Pyongyang. However, Secretary General of the Cabinet of Ministers Yoshihide Suga recently announced at a press conference that the government will make every effort to ensure the prompt return of all the remaining kidnapped Japanese citizens. According to a senior Japanese Foreign Ministry official, Japan maintains a position aimed at solving the problem of the kidnapped, as well as the nuclear and missile problems of North Korea.

In 2002, in the capital of the DPRK, Koizumi and Kim signed the Pyongyang Declaration. In accordance with the document, Japan pledged to provide economic assistance to North Korea after the normalization of bilateral diplomatic relations, which provided for a preliminary solution to the problem of the abducted. This assistance was seen as a kind of material compensation to North Korea for the colonial rule of Japan on the Korean peninsula in the first half of the 12th century. Then the DPRK, for its part, agreed to extend the moratorium on missile tests.

In August 2003, the so-called Six-Party Talks were launched to discuss nuclear weapons programs of North Korea. In September 2005, this multilateral negotiating structure, which, in addition to the DPRK, also included China, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the United States, adopted a statement according to which North Korea agreed to abandon the nuclear program in exchange for economic assistance from the countries included in the " six "negotiators, especially Japan, South Korea and the United States. It should be noted that Tokyo tried to bring to the agenda of the talks a purely bilateral problem of the abducted Japanese, which even his ally Washington could not understand.

However, in response to financial sanctions imposed on the DPRK by the United States a month later, Pyongyang launched a ballistic missile in July 2006. Three months later, North Korea conducted its first nuclear test.

Japan and the DPRK resumed their talks only in March 2014. Under informal arrangements, the parents of the kidnapped Megumi Yokota visited Mongolia and met there with the granddaughter born by their daughter and her Korean husband in the DPRK.

In accordance with the agreement reached in Stockholm in May 2014, the DPRK promised to resume the investigation into the fate of the remaining abductees and set up a special commission for this. However, in January of the year 2016, the country experienced a nuclear explosive device for the fourth time. For this, Japan once again imposed economic sanctions on the DPRK. Pyongyang, for its part, in retaliation for this step, stopped the aforementioned investigation and dismissed the relevant commission.

Under the leadership of Kim Jong-un, who inherited power from his father Kim Jong Il, North Korea accelerated its missile and nuclear programs. Thus, as it is obvious, Pyongyang has actually sentenced the decades-long problem of the kidnapped, poisoning during this whole period the relations between Japan and the DPRK.

In August this year, the new Foreign Minister of Japan, Taro Kono, had a conversation with his North Korean counterpart Lee Yong-ho in Manila and called for a comprehensive solution to the problem of kidnapped and nuclear and missile problems of the DPRK in accordance with the Pyongyang Declaration. And 12 September, official representatives of the governments of Japan and North Korea met in Switzerland at an international conference on Northeast Asia. The Japanese representative said in part: "We are continuing negotiations (with North Korea) on many channels in an effort to solve the problem of the abducted."

However, as the authors of the article, published in the Japan Times newspaper on September 18, complained, without showing signs of North Korea's refraining from continuing missile launches and nuclear tests, there is still no way to solve the problem of the kidnapped.

On the other hand, it can be confidently stated that while Tokyo does not give up the strongest military and economic pressure on the DPRK to eliminate its nuclear missile potential, Pyongyang will continue to use for its own purposes the leverage that is so sensitive to Tokyo, as the problem of abducted Japanese.

And the fact that in the foreseeable future the Japanese pressure of the Kim Jong-un regime will only grow is evidenced by an article by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe published in the New York Times on September 18. The headline of an article that appeared on the eve of the next UN General Assembly, where one of the "hot" topics will be Pyongyang's nuclear missile programs, speaks for itself: "Solidarity against the North Korean threat."

In general, to all appearances, we will not be witnessing more than one year of tug-of-war between Japan and the DPRK, to one end of which the problem of Pyongyang’s nuclear missile potential is tied, and to the other - the problem of the abducted Japanese. Against this background, Abe, unlike Koizumi, is unlikely to decide to go to Pyongyang in the foreseeable future.
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