Go to contents


N.K.-Japan accord reminiscent of advocates in Washington

N.K.-Japan accord reminiscent of advocates in Washington

Posted June. 09, 2014 03:52,   


Whenever China forcefully repatriates North Korean defectors to the North, the Chinese Embassy in Washington gets noisy. Human rights organizations for North Koreans and the Korean American community stage massive protests and street rallies by holding up banners reading, “Stop forced repatriation.”

It is interesting to find Japanese people who also appearing in such protest rallies without fail. They show up there to urge Americans to pay attention to Japanese people who were kidnapped by the North. They hardly receive main spotlights due to overwhelming spirit of the protestors against China’s repatriation of North Korean defectors. Nevertheless, they diligently hand out fliers to explain about Japanese abductees taken to the North, and urge Americans to pay attention to the issue.

This reporter asked Yoichi Shimada, a professor of Fukui Prefecture University, during a protest rally, “Why are you staging protest rallies for Japanese abductees taken to the North amid demonstrators protesting against China’s forced repatriation of North Korean defectors.” He replied, “They are similar issues from the perspective of human rights. Japanese abductees are an old issue, which cannot easily draw attention. We have to raise issue even by jumping on the bandwagon of demonstrators against China’s repatriation of defectors.” He said he would also meet with U.S. Congress and government officials interested in the Japanese abductee issue. As the delegate of the Coalition to Rescue Japanese Abductees Taken to North Korea, he came to the U.S. from Japan to participate in the rally.

This reporter had a chance to visit the residence of a Japanese newspaper’s Washington bureau chief. His study room was full of brochures and posters on Japanese abductees. His ethnic American wife Susan Balso formed an organization to rescue Japanese abductees in Washington, and is lobbying U.S. politicians for the abductees. The wife’s main occupation is lawyer, but she seemed to be spending more of her time dealing with the Japanese abductee issue. Seeing Balso explain in details the history of Japanese abductees taken to the North for quite a while, I realized why the Japanese abductee issue is drawing attention in the U.S., and how congressional hearings take place to address the issue. It was none other than the tireless efforts made by ethic Japanese leaders.

Witnessing the North Korea-Japan agreement aimed at resolving Japanese abductee issue recently, this reporter came to recall the people I met in the U.S. It is true that there are worries in the U.S. that the Pyongyang-Tokyo accord will cause crack in the South Korea-U.S.-Japan alliance, and discontent about Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who have gone too far without prior consultation with the U.S. The U.S. is stressing transparency in North Korea-Japan dialogue, but is speaking highly of Japan’s constant efforts to bring attention to resolution of the Japanese abductee issue from the perspective of human rights. Even way before the inauguration of the Abe administration, many Japanese government officials have raised the issue of Japanese abductees and called on the U.S. to pay attention to the matter without fail whenever they visited Washington Activities by non-government organizations and civilians, including Shimada and Balso have also played important roles.

In recent years, Japan is expanding its supporters’ base in the U.S. by increasing relief and rescue activities in wars and disaster-stricken regions of the world, while stressing resolution of its abductees in a humanitarian fashion. Michael Green, Japan Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said that the U.S. viewed North Korea’s nuclear weapons and human rights issue separately from the very beginning, adding that some people in the U.S. have complaints about Japan’s moves, but more people welcome its efforts to the international community, common value of humanity, and regional stability.”

Up until recently, there were talks circulating in the diplomatic community in Washington, which suggested that Japan has an envious eye toward the optimal South Korea-U.S. relations. There are no longer such talks. South Korea has realized that the U.S. has subtle yet significant difference from us in the way Washington sees Japan’s expansion of its collective self-defense right, and resolution of the abductee issue. Japan`s variable for South Korea is too big to only call for “perfect collaboration” with the U.S. and blindly trust in Washington. In order for South Korea to avoid being in an awkward situation sandwiched between Washington and Tokyo, Seoul needs diplomacy at a higher dimension.