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.