very real North Korean sanctions
By Kosuke Takahashi
TOKYO - North Korean leader Kim Jong-il must rue
the day he ever confessed to Japanese Prime Minister
Junichiro Koizumi in September 2002 that his Hermit
Kingdom's spies had abducted Japanese civilians in the
1970s and 1980s. And he must rue his recent decision to
turn over some bogus ashes to "prove" two abductees were
dead. But the starting point was the confession, the
beginning of his tragic series of miscalculations -
tragic for Japan, Koizumi, Japanese abductees, the
missing and their anguished, anxious kin.
potentially tragic for hungry North Koreans, if an
enraged Japan imposes economic sanctions. However, many
in Japan think Tokyo's solo economic sanctions would not
be effective, and despite public opinion, such
punishment appears unlikely. If China and South Korea
were to impose sanctions along with Japan, the effect
would be powerful, but also unlikely. And Koizumi is
afraid solo sanctions would undermine the six-party
nuclear talks. Many observers say more devastating for
North Korea would be getting to the truth about the
bombing of a South Korean airliner in 1987, because it
would clearly reveal the nature of the North Korean
Still, an overwhelming majority of the
enraged Japanese public wants economic sanctions,
cutting trade and desperately needed humanitarian
assistance to North Korea. Koizumi is having a hard time
maintaining a balanced course. The chorus for sanctions
has become louder since what North Korea claimed were
the ashes of two dead abductees, including Megumi
Yokota, abducted at age 13, and another person, were
proved by mitochondrial analysis to be those of other
As Japan is obliged to continue the
cat-and-mouse game of diplomacy with the world's most
reclusive nation over the issue of abducted Japanese,
the latest unsavory developments have just tightened a
political, and possibly a sanctions noose about the neck
of Kim Jong-il. The developments in the abduction issue
not only have roused Japanese public fury over him, but
also have stirred old memories of the scourge of North
Korea's terrorism - the bombing of Korean Air Flight 858
in November 1987. For sure, Kim cannot make a complete
settlement of the abduction issues - some are still
missing and unaccounted for. He will strive to keep
brazening out everything linking North Korea to the
bombing of this civilian airliner and other subversive
activities, by calling black white and vice versa and
playing a game of brinkmanship. The abduction issue is
just beginning to tell us the secrets of what is
probably the world's most dangerous country.
This really is a very bad spot for Koizumi to be
in, as he appears to have been in a rush to normalize
diplomatic relations with Kim Jong-il, without strongly
demanding credible information on the other missing
Japanese abductees. Critics say he appears to have
fallen in love with his own political legacy and place
in history, looking toward the rest of his term, ending
in September 2006.
Last week new facts and valuable
information on North Korea's kidnapping unfolded from
the testimony of Fukie Chimura, 49, one of the five
Japanese abductees repatriated to Japan from North Korea
in October 2002; this was 24 years after they were
kidnapped by North Korean agents in 1978. Her testimony
has reinforced the theories that Pyongyang hesitates to
release the 10 other missing Japanese and provide
information on them because they were forced by
Pyongyang to play a key role in training spies and
taking part in espionage activities. It is believed that
in October 2002 North Korea released the only five
abductees who were not forced to engage in significant
covert operations. Of the other 10 missing Japanese,
Pyongyang said that eight were dead and the other two
never entered the country.
Chimura's testimony to relatives of Japanese abductees,
Megumi Yokota, who was kidnapped in 1977 at age 13,
taught Japanese to a Korean woman named "Suk-heui" as
part of a spy education program.
is believed to be Kim Suk-heui. Former North Korean
agent Kim Hyun-hee, who now lives in South Korea after
being sentenced to death for blowing up the Korean Air
jet in 1987 (she was subsequently granted amnesty),
wrote in her autobiography The Tears of My Soul
that she received intelligence education with another
woman agent called Kim Suk-heui.
media reported on Wednesday that in 1984 Megumi Yokota
married a North Korean agent to whom she had taught
Japanese. Yokota was said to have taught at Kim Jong-il
Political and Military University, which is known to be
a spy-training facility in Pyongyang.
Chimura also said that Yaeko Taguchi, another abductee,
taught Japanese to a woman called "Okka", a pseudonym or
code name of Kim Hyun-hee. North Korea claims Taguchi died
in 1986. Japan's law-enforcement authorities confirmed in
1991 that Taguchi, under the name "Li Un-hye", taught
Japanese to Kim Hyun-hee.
The bombing of the Korean Air airliner en
route from Baghdad to Seoul killed 115 persons
on board. Many observers believe North Korea aimed to
prevent South Korea from holding the 1988 Seoul Olympics.
North Korea has denied any involvement in the terrorist
attacks on the airliner at all, by saying it's
a malicious fabrication of South Korea and others. But
Kim Hyun-hee, echoing many observers, claimed in her book that Kim Jong-il
masterminded the 1987 bombing by giving her the order.
(Kim Jong-il is also believed to be the mastermind of
the 1983 Yangon bombing in Myanmar, which was aimed at
then South Korean president Chun Doo-hwan.)
Kim Jong-il, to give Tokyo credible information and come
clean about the abduction issues by confessing
everything would be like signing his own political death
warrant. It would certainly undermine the shredded
legitimacy of his regime and his reputation. He will
never do that, even if Tokyo puts pressure on Pyongyang
by imposing strong economic sanctions.
abduction issue is very similar to the Pyongyang nuclear
crisis. Not a few experts believe North Koreans will not
give up their nuclear deterrent because they believe
once they give it up their regime will be weakened and
they will be vulnerable without the big nuclear card.
The abduction issue is the same. Kim Jong-il will not
and cannot totally resolve the abduction issues because
once he does, his regime will be be clearly exposed as a
rogue and terrorist state - especially at a time when
North Korea wants the US to remove it from its list of
countries sponsoring terrorism. North Korea cannot just
let other abductees, including Megumi Yokota, go home at
least for the foreseeable future, even if they are
Public fury over North Korea's brazen
As Tokyo is having a hard time dealing with
the abduction issue, one mother's words have been
emotionally venting and fueling ordinary Japanese anger
at North Korea recently.
"I can hear Megumi say:
'Mother, don't believe their words. I am still here.
Please, help me,'" said Sakie Yokota, the mother of
Megumi Yokota, who was kidnapped in 1977 at age 13, as
soon as a Japanese delegation to Pyongyang brought back
to Tokyo the alleged remains of Megumi last month. Sakie
has never believed her only daughter's death, which
North Korea had asserted since Koizumi first visited
Pyongyang to hold a summit meeting with Kim in September
2002. Since then, Sakie has persistently voiced her own
suspicions over Megumi's death.
the mother's suspicions over those remains proved valid.
The remains, or ashes, Pyongyang provided last month to
Tokyo as evidence of the death of Megumi, a symbolic
heroine of the victims' tragedies in Japan, have turned
out to be those of two other persons', the results of
one Japanese university's cutting-edge DNA tests showed.
Teikyo University in Tokyo, which Japanese authorities
had asked to conduct a DNA analysis, found out that the
ashes were not Megumi's after using so-called
mitochondrial DNA technology.
apparently undervalued Japan's state-of-the-art DNA
technology. It had sought to draw the curtain on the
abduction problem as swiftly as possible by handing over
to a Japanese team human remains that had been burned at
high temperature, in an apparent effort to obliterate
DNA - and calling them Megumi's ashes.
Korea's act "is clearly against the spirit of the Pyongyang
Declaration", said Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki
Hosoda, who announced the results. He expressed a
vehement and scathing protest against Pyongyang's
blatant insincerity, which he said has made it quite
difficult for Tokyo to ship the remaining half of
250,000 tons of promised food to the starving nation.
Megumi's father, Shigeru, a head of the
abductees association, also voiced anger at the
"fabrication of the remains", strongly urging the
government to impose economic sanctions on North Korea.
Shigeru is nationally known as a spokesman for the
families of the victims.
the following day, Hosoda announced that the remains of
Kaoru Matsuki, who was kidnapped in Madrid in 1980 at
age 26, also turned out to be those of someone else.
This Monday, the Yokota family-led group, which was
notified of another DNA test result by the government,
said the remains of Matsuki also proved to be bogus. The
group said North Korea mixed up the remains of five
This is not the first time
Pyongyang has submitted bogus remains to Tokyo, claiming
they are Matsuki's. Two years ago, it also handed over
the false remains of Matsuki to a Japanese delegation.
At that time, Japanese osteologists found the remains to
be those of a woman in her 50s.
show majority favor sanctions
Fueled by North
Korea's ongoing acts, the majority of Japanese are now
in favor of economic sanctions on North Korea. According
to the recent opinion poll conducted by the liberal
Mainichi Shimbun this past weekend, 72% of those polled
favored sanctions, while only 20% of those surveyed were
against it. The conservative Yomiuri Shimbun's latest
opinion poll had similar results; it said 74% of those
polled were for economic sanctions, meanwhile 19% were
against such punishment.
Japan is North
Korea's third-largest trading partner, following China and South
Korea. The amount of trade hit 30 billion yen (US$285
million) last year. South Korea and China oppose Japanese
sanctions on North Korea, saying the step could
complicate efforts to end the impasse over the communist
country's nuclear weapons drive. The United States,
meanwhile, has warned Japan to be cautious about growing
calls to impose economic sanctions on North Korea
because the unpredictable regime could "outmaneuver"
such a move, a Japanese official said.
But clearly, North Korea's blatant
insincerity in dealing with the abduction issue has
strengthened the case for economic
In the near term, Japan will be
unlikely to impose sanctions. Japanese lawmakers know
that, but still call loudly for sanctions, saying that
they really mean it applies more pressure on North
On Tuesday, meanwhile, a
spokesman for North Korea's Foreign Ministry issued a
statement blasting Japan for saying the ashes were not
those of Megumi as claimed by Pyongyang, the Kyodo News
reported, citing the Korean Central News Agency.
The North Korean spokesman said that his
country suspected Japan's "analyses" of the ashes was based on a
political plot meticulously contrived to achieve a
certain objective - discrediting Pyongyang. The
spokesman even warned it would regard any sanctions
imposed by Tokyo as a declaration of war that would be
met with an "effective physical" response.
statement suggests that Pyongyang now is taking
precautions against Japan's accusations, as well as
calls for sanctions by the public and politicians. Kim
Jong-il chose to protect his regime and himself rather
than to raise the white flag over the abduction issues.
Recent incidents speak volumes about North Korea's regime
and its lack of sensitivities to international public
South Korea's policy is based on there
being no alternative to engaging with North Korea in an
effort to accomplish beneficial changes there - and
Koizumi helped this engagement policy with his visits to
Pyongyang. Excluding the US, Russia and China also
supported this policy. But this engagement policy has so
far proved fruitless in resolving the North Korean
nuclear crisis and abduction issue. The rest of the
world appears to have no recourse but to wait for Kim
Jong-il's downfall, and it could be a long wait.
Kosuke Takahashi is a former
staff writer at the Asahi Shimbun and is currently a
freelance correspondent based in Tokyo. He can be
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