Sunday, June 29, 2008

Yamasaki's lonely fight

What a difference fifteen years make.

In his memoir, Abe Shinzo wrote of his lonely fight — alongside Nakagawa Shoichi and a handful of other LDP conservatives — to oppose normalization with North Korea and place the abductions issue at the center of Japan's North Korea policy. They battled against the LDP, the media, academia, and the foreign ministry to force them to consider the plight of the abductees before providing North Korea with aid and clearing the way to diplomatic recognition.

Here we are in 2008 and Mr. Abe got his wish. Resolving the abductees issue has become a primary goal of Japan's North Korea policy, a goal that enjoys substantial support in the public, the media, and the LDP. The US is pilloried for giving (symbolic) ground to North Korea without resolution of the issue — and the Fukuda government is pilloried for letting the US shift happen. Mr. Abe, Hiranuma Takeo, and other conservatives set the tone on North Korea.

And Yamasaki Taku, an advocate of normalization with North Korea, is left to fight a lonely battle against a public largely opposed to his proposal.

His fight has become a personal one, as Mr. Abe has decided to make a mission of demolishing Mr. Yamasaki's argument.

Mr. Yamasaki appears happy to reciprocate. Appearing on a Western Japan TV program Saturday, he called Mr. Abe "the howling dog" of North Korea policy, whose baying has accomplished nothing. He further insisted that it was a mistake for Japan's North Korea policy to depend largely on US pressure; Japan, he said, had to take more proactive action itself in negotiations with North Korea.

Mainichi provides a longer quote from this appearance, that makes his argument even clearer: "America's greatest national interest is stopping North Korea's nuclear development, and compromise on the nuclear issue is possible. The Japanese abductee problem is a problem in Japan-North Korea relations, and it is not an appropriate attitude to depend on another country for the solution."

What a sensible — and rare — argument for a Japanese politician to make in the midst of the moaning about the "shocking" US shift. How ironic that conservatives, interested in an independent, assertive foreign policy, cannot tolerate the US government's taking a different position. Does Japan really need the US in order to solve the abductions issue, as implied by conservative dismay over last week's announcement (Japan has lost its "America card," Mr. Hiranuma said)?

Unfortunately there are few signs that Mr. Yamasaki's view will win out. The government is proceeding gingerly, emphasizing that nothing has changed yet and declaring that the Fukuda government will continue to make a priority of the abductions issue. (See statements by Machimura Nobutaka on Fuji TV's Hodo 2001 program.) But according to Mainichi, ambiguity surrounding the details of the recent agreement with North Korea to re-investigate the abductions has made the prime minister a target of public dissatisfaction.

Of course, the Fukuda government isn't alone in taking the blame. Plenty of blame is being directed towards the US. Over the weekend, Mr. Abe called on President Bush to honor his promise to the abductees. Ibuki Bunmei, the LDP's secretary-general, added his opinion, suggesting that the US has been "deceived" by North Korea. He suggested that the Bush administration may betray Japan further by repeating the Clinton administration's decision to send a senior official to Pyongyang.

Is there no other significant LDP official willing to support the Yamasaki line?

Another illustration of how the LDP has changed since the cold war ended. The party belongs to the revisionists now. Pragmatists like Mr. Yamasaki are tolerated but marginalized.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

Yamasaki has been marginalized for quite some time and it is due to the countless scandals being exposed by the media in the last decade,not by him being "pragmatist".

And why is LDP now belongs to "the revisionist",for they only listen more to the nation than some phone calls coming from the Whitehouse?
If they are "revisionist" than you must also include Ichiro Ozawa in the category for he too say the same thing.But somehow you chose to defend him in lengthy post.

And were you not the one saying "so too might this incident prompt soul-searching that leads to a Japan better able to articulate its interests to the US, even if it means disagreement between Washington and Tokyo"?

Aceface

Anonymous said...

Yamasaki Taku is of course quite sensible as you said in making the point that the rift with the US could have been avoided if Abe had not insisted on using the six-party talks as a forum for advancing the (bilateral) dispute with N Korea over the abduction issue. Abe apparently thought that he could get more leverage by internationalizing the issue but he was blind to the priorities set by Washington (correctly as it turns out) for the six-party talks. Yamasaki is a veteran LDP member with a broader perspective than Abe. Abe is too green to understand the subtle nuances of international politics. Perhaps in a less centralized Japan, Abe could have made a long career as a local poltico but this is not currently an option for a young ambitious politico in Japan.

Bryce said...

"And why is LDP now belongs to "the revisionist",for they only listen more to the nation than some phone calls coming from the Whitehouse?"

Ace, are you talking about the abductions issue here? I think this is a case of the tail (or the head) wagging the dog. The issue had all the makings of a sensationalist news story that Abe could use to manipulate public opinion, which he did. It was Abe and co that emphasized the issue, particularly around the Yokota Megumi farce; it was not a natural public groundswell of concern.

Ozawa's "revisionism" also comes in a somewhat different flavour than Abe's. Ozawa seems to want to enhance his status as a liberal reformer by recommending revision as a means to international cooperation. In Abe's book, it is pretty clear that he, on the other hand, favours constitutional revision as a way of sticking it to granddad's ideological enemies.

I don't really know if the LDP "belongs to the revisionists" though. There are plenty who can read the writing on the wall with constitutional revision is becoming more and more unpopular. Even Aso seems to have played down this goal of late.

Anonymous said...

Actually,the LDP could indeed be in the hands of "the revisionists"since that was one of the foundation principles of the party way back in 1955.

Bryce:

Yes,I am thinking about the abduction case and I don't think this is a case of the tail wagging the dog.

First off,the abduction by North Korea is not just the bilateral issue between Tokyo and Pyongyang,but wide ranging international human right abuse,for the nationality of the abductees are over dozen.
Secondly,The U.S,Great Britain and France had accused and sanctioned Libya for operating PanAm flight bombing in '88 and UTA flight bombing in '89 until Gadaffi turned over the suspects/paid compensation to the families of the victims/recognized the state responsibility.
Now,if my memory is correct,these actions by Western governments were neither called as farce nor manupilation of public opinions.It was just and based on the principles.

But when Japan take the same stance in identical situation,everyone yanks and call us delusional.Weird double standard,if you ask me.


From the realist viewpoints,just think about it for a moment.

For Pyongyang,the abduction of Japanese back in the 70's are now considered operation of minor importance,for infiltration into the South by disguising as Japanese have become lost art of coldwar days espionage.

On the contrary,nuclear weapon program has now become the pillar of the regime and only bargaining tip for the survival.

Now,if Kim Jong Il won't come to full disclosure on abduction of Japanese and handing the kidnappers over to the international court,why would anyone think he'll come to full disclosure on nukes and agree with total disarmament?

The abduction issue is a convenient indicator to judge how serious Pyongyang is to collaborate with the ouside world.
And judging by that,Pyongyang is anything but serious.

Aceface

Anonymous said...

Aceface, I don't understand how you can claim that the abduction issue is not just a bilateral issue between Japan and N Korea but an international human rights issue in the CONTEXT of the six-party talks. Of the six countries in the talks only the US and Japan have tried to make human rights an integral part of their foreign policy. Russia, China, and N Korea have persistently been accused of human rights violations within their borders by the US and the EU countries. And because of Japan's widespread and huge atrocities in WW II, it has been accused of human rights violations itself by the countries that it invaded. Moreover, Japan has refused to fully compensate or atone for its violations to the complete satisfaction of the victims such as the surviving comfort women. In other words, the six-party talks was not the appropriate venue for Japan to pursue the abduction issue. Abe should have anticipated that most of the other parties to the six-party talks would be indifferent to his agenda emphasizing the abduction issue. And even the US to his surprise was not sympathetically inclined to elevate the issue to the top of the agenda alongside the main issue of denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.

Anonymous said...

"Aceface, I don't understand how you can claim that the abduction issue is not just a bilateral issue between Japan and N Korea but an international human rights issue in the CONTEXT of the six-party talks. "

Is it just me that six-party talks has five agendas and they are
1)denuclearization of Korean peninsula
2)Economic and energy support to North Korea
3)Normalization between Japan and North Korea
4)Normalization between the U.S and North Korea
5)Joint Security Cooperation in North East Asia.

Abduction issue is directly relate with 2 and 3.Indirectly to Japan with 5.And Pyongyang had repeatedly announced on 1 that they would only talk to Washington about this in regarding 4.

"Japan has refused to fully compensate or atone for its violations to the complete satisfaction of the victims such as the surviving comfort women.

This is rediculous.
First off,Japan and South Korea had reached agreement on this issue on 1965 treaty.
Secondly, especially for the benefit of this particluar issue,Asia Women's Foundation was established in 1995.
Those who are not COMPLETELY SATISFIED with these probably wish Japan going down to the bottom of the pacific ocean or something,however,they could still make this an issue in the negotiation talks of normalization between NK and Japan,of which Tokyo had promised of some kind of compensation for the past colonial days.But then again,there will be no serious talk until we see some change in Pyongyang's attitude on abduction issues.

Anyway it is waaay absurd to bring this up to neutralize abduction issue of which Pyongyang had done next to nothing(and Tokyo did almost everything).

And is it just me to think that no one in the six party talks have some clean hands regarding human rights issues in Korea?
And why would anybody be surprised by at least three participants of the six party would be against any kind of human issue related topics being discussed in the international meetings?
My concern is the other two,the U.S and South Korea,for they are supposed to be a democracy of a sort.

Maybe that's the reason why you(and some people in K Street) specifically broght up "comfort women" only to alienate Tokyo and have their mouth shut in six party talks and concentrate on usual Japanese business,Writing down on check books that somebody hands over to you.

Well,that's not gonna happen soon.Not without a fight.

Aceface

Bryce said...

On Gadaffi and Kim:

Gadaffi never handed back the ashes of a victim only to have the recipient claim that some really dodgy DNA testing proved that the ashes did not belong to the victim. Gadaffi's repentence was acceptable because the other side was willing to accept his gesture. This is not the case in Japan as the Yokota Megumi controversy (blown up by the media and politicians - the scientists take a much cooler view) shows.

I think this "illustates" the kind of emotionalism the Japanese government gets up to in this case:
http://www.rachi.go.jp/jp/megumi/index.html

Bryce said...

"And because of Japan's widespread and huge atrocities in WW II..."

Yes, I think Ace is right here. Not every issue that concerns Japan's relations with Asia has to be connected to its record 60+ years ago, particularly when the government has paid reparations to South Korea, issued a formal apology soon after the issue of comfort women arose and set up a fund to compensate those who had not received compensation from the SK government as part of the 1965 (full and final reparations) agreement. And "Japan" (whatever that means) is accused of not being sincere in its apologies!

However, in a warped kind of way, this does go to show that apologies only really work if the aggrieved side is ready to accept them, so I guess in a sense it is comparable to North Korea. If the "Yokota Megumi is definately certainly 100% alive and kicking" line wasn't being pushed by the government it would be a lot easier for the GOJ to negotiate with the North over issues which are more important IN THE PRESENT.

Anonymous said...

"Gadaffi never handed back the ashes of a victim only to have the recipient claim that some really dodgy DNA testing proved that the ashes did not belong to the victim. "

Yes and No.
Even though the Japanese test turns out to be a bogus(but there are no way to prove it scientifically),still the fact remains that the bone can not prove itself that it belonged to Megumi for it's not scientifically identifiable.,thus the suspicion of Megumi Yokota's survival remains legitimate.

"Gadaffi's repentence was acceptable because the other side was willing to accept his gesture."

First off,these two issues are an apple and an orange,for the victims of Gadaffi bombings are unquestionably dead,while the destiny of Kim's abduction victims are still in the dark.

Secondly,Gadaffi's repentence came along with some contents(ig,hand over of the suspect,compensation to the victims,acknowledgement of the government responsibility)

Thirdly,Japanese government had reassured Pyongyang that there will be some "bonus", if there are any development,most recently by Fukuda Yasuo himself.
So your argument doesn't stand.

"I think this "illustates" the kind of emotionalism the Japanese government gets up to in this case"

And the American and the British bombed Gadaffi's residence in Tripolli and killed his fifteen-months old daughter.
I think that "illustates" the kind of emotionalism the U.S/UK government got up to the man.

On the other hand,the Japanese government made a tear-jerking anime in attmpt to practice some "soft-power"of cool Japan to Kim Jong Il.
It does indeed look silly,but I think it's more civilized way of pressuring to the head of state.

Aceface

Bryce said...

"...thus the suspicion of Megumi Yokota's survival remains legitimate."

Precisely. Unfortunately, by parading Megumi's parents around, who are apparently in no doubt that their daughter is still alive, the media and the government create the impression that they share the notion that Megumi's life in NK in more than just a suspicion.

If the abductees are all in fact dead - and if indeed their deaths cannot be proved convincingly - what, exactly, is the North Korean government supposed to do to in order to settle the issue if the Japanese side isn't willing to accept anything short of Megumi's resurrection? (Short of opening its borders and becoming a responsible, democratic member of international society, of course.)

"Secondly,Gadaffi's repentence came along with some contents..."

So did Kim Jong Il's, remember. There are a few former residents of North Korea now in Japan, remember.

Has Japan been entirely clear about what it wants from North Korea, short of the return of abductees who might not be alive or the provision of proof that might not exist? If it hasn't no amount of 'bonuses' are going to be able to induce 'developments' that may well be impossible to engender.

Anonymous said...

"the media and the government create the impression that they share the notion that Megumi's life in NK in more than just a suspicion."

Do they? I work in the media,but basically our stance is "that is their hope",but not much else.

I too think that Yokotas and the family of abductees are definitly obsessed and devoted for their cause,their suspicion is almost in the state of paranoia.but who could blame them?
Then again,so far their suspicions have always been compensated by the new facts being revealed which were denied and concealded by the regime and
in this,Pyongyang never let you down.

That's one factor that makes Kim and Gadaffi different since the Libyans handed over the conductors of terror and now we know almost the entire picture of the plans of flight bombing.But not so about NK abduction and destiny of the others since the regime refuses the full disclosure.
And one more thing.Kim's repentence has already been rewarded ith having Japanese prime minister coming all the way to pay tribute to Pyongyang.Not only once,but twice.

"If the abductees are all in fact dead - and if indeed their deaths cannot be proved convincingly - what, exactly, is the North Korean government supposed to do to in order to settle the issue if the Japanese side isn't willing to accept anything short of Megumi's resurrection?"

I think we will follow normal police procedure in the kidnapping case.First we interrogate the suspect,then we send investigators to collect more facts and evidences,and the court decides the judgement.If this process will go underway,I'm sure Yokotas(and others) would find sanction unnecessary and wait for the moment of truth.Anyway,that's the way the public would take.

"Has Japan been entirely clear about what it wants from North Korea"
"If it hasn't no amount of 'bonuses' are going to be able to induce 'developments' that may well be impossible to engender."

That's something we will be talking in the negotiation process for the normalization and I think it is quite unnecessary to put everything on the table in advance.

Aceface