In what Mainichi describes as an effort to still Japanese fears of “abandonment,” the president insisted that he remembers his meeting with the Yokotas and that the abductees will not be forgotten.
In his attempt to reassure Japan, Mr. Bush stated that the abductions issue should be resolved within the framework of the six-party talks (presumably as opposed to the framework of Japan-North Korea bilateral talks).
Will Japanese leaders and the Japanese public be reassured by the president’s words? It seems that the time of relying on the president’s words has passed, and even conservatives — who, if Abe Shinzo’s reliance on Mr. Bush’s promises on the abductees, once put considerable stock in the president’s words — are no longer content to rely on the promise of President Bush. And why should they? How does the president propose to resolve the abductions issue in a multilateral setting? Are China and South Korea prepared to pressure North Korea on the abductees. If not, the president’s desire to see the abductions issue solved multilaterally is meaningless. All it means is that Japan will continue to look to others for the answer to the problem instead of looking at its own policy and asking, “What constitutes ‘progress’ on the abductions? What will constitute ‘resolution’ on the abductions?” What if the proof Japan wants doesn’t exist?
There are few signs that Japan is prepared to reckon with the consequences of putting its North Korea policy in the hands of the families of the victims — and fixing that mistake. As tragic as the abductions are, Japan has squandered its influence and outsourced its North Korea policy to the US as a result of this issue. Now that the US has changed course as a result of its — or the State Department’s — assessment of US national interests, Japan’s leaders are left with nothing, no plan B, no new ideas, nothing but railing at the US for its abandonment of Japan.
Is there a leader in Japan — aside from this man — with the courage to challenge the abductions-centered consensus, to tell the families that as sad as it is to say, they might not get the truth until after the collapse of the DPRK, and in the meantime Japan has other goals to pursue in the region that mean shelving the abductees for now, like North Korea’s nuclear program? The prevailing deal is far from perfect, and only a first step, but why shouldn’t Japan be engaged in seeing the deal through in the hope that this agreement will stick? Does Japan have nothing to gain from a stabilized Korean peninsula? As Sam Roggeveen noted, even if the agreement doesn’t disarm North Korea — an unlikely goal — it might result in a less belligerent North Korea, which will in turn buy China, South Korea, the US, Japan, and Russia time to plan for what to do when Kim dies, a process in which Japan ought to be deeply engaged.