Another take on the abductions issue

The Japan Times reported yesterday on comments by Columbia’s Gerald Curtis at a forum at the Korea Society in New York, in which he suggested that the abduction issue — the dispute that has followed upon North Korea’s 2002 admission to having abducted Japanese citizens in the 1970s and 1980s — has isolated Japan.

It’s worth considering whether Japan is wise to expend diplomatic effort on an issue that may not have much traction. Unlike Curtis, I don’t think the abductions issue is necessarily isolating Japan — there are plenty of other issues by which Japan can be isolated from its neighbors — but the real concern would be if the US and North Korea actually began trading concessions (unlikely but not impossible). In that case, Japan would be isolated, because it would be pushing a hard line just as the US softened.

Of course, a lot needs to happen for this scenario to unfold, but it’s interesting to consider whether Japan should back off on an issue that is, after all, wrapped up with the whole package of North Korea’s atrocious behavior.

But then, this is one of those foreign policy issues where the public has, in part, led rather than followed. While Prime Minister Abe has taken the lead on this issue since 2002, the public has demanded action, and moreover the issue carries sentimental weight, to which posters, lapel pins, and films attest.

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