- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 3, 2006

Ellis S. Krauss, professor of Japanese politics and policy-making at the Graduate School of International Relations and Pacific Studies at the University of California at San Diego, spoke to Washington Times reporter Takehiko Kambayashi about Japan’s North Korean issues and their implications.

Question: Before North Korea’s July 4 missile tests, its kidnapping of Japanese to train North Korean infiltrators attracted more attention in Japan than did Pyongyang’s nuclear program. Why is that?

Answer: Personally, although I totally sympathize with the families and think North Korea’s behavior was a major violation of human rights, I think that the Japanese media paid so much attention to this problem that it was paying less attention to the far more important problem of North Korea’s nuclear program, which, after all, could involve Japan, the United States and South Korea in war with North Korea if it is not resolved.

It is a very dangerous situation on the Korean Peninsula; and yet, it was the abduction issue that seemed to get most of the media attention in Japan. Why?

I think there are many possible reasons: Because the abduction issue involves human-interest stories and appealing video that the media loves; because Japanese are very sympathetic to problems of the families that have been separated; because the families have been very skillful in managing media attention to the issue; and I suspect because there are conservative politicians who would like to use this issue to stir up fear of North Korea to justify greater attention to building up Japan’s defense.

Q: What can Japan do to help resolve the issue of Pyongyang’s nuclear aims?

A: It must be a multilateral effort, as in the six-nation talks [involving North Korea, South Korea, China, Japan, Russia and the United States].

Japan has little credibility or leverage with North Korea on the issue at all, in part because of the hatred of North Korea over Japan’s occupation [of the Korean Peninsula from its annexation in 1910 until Japan’s World War II defeat in 1945], and in part because the abduction issue gives all the “cards” to North Korea.

If Japan built up its military forces and threatened North Korea, it would only destabilize the region more, risk war and probably be counterproductive, because North Korea would use that as an excuse to build its nuclear weapons program even more. So the only smart and practical thing Japan can do is to rely on multilateral negotiations and the military strength of the U.S.

Q: In March, U.S. Ambassador J. Thomas Schieffer visited Niigata to see the abduction site of Megumi Yokota, one of the Japanese kidnapped by North Korea. The following month, Sakie Yokota, the victim’s mother, met with President Bush at the White House.

What does this timing tell you? Did the events boost the popularity of Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe, who is expected to run in next month’s election of a Liberal Democratic Party president, which effectively decides who will be Japan’s next prime minister?

A: This doesn’t surprise me. Mr. Abe has been instrumental in helping the victims’ families for some time, including trying to help them get attention in the United States to the abduction problem. Recall [that] it was he that first introduced the families to former Ambassador [Howard H.] Baker, I believe. … This is his “signature issue” — the issue with which his foreign policy attitudes are most closely identified.

So whether the timing was related to this or not, every time the issue gets attention or North Korea engages in missile tests or other provocative behavior, it probably helps Mr. Abe and his image more than any other politician.

If Yasukuni and the China relationship are Mr. Abe’s weakness, the North Korea issue is his strength with the public.

[Yasukuni Shrine, which honors Japan’s war dead, is controversial because its memorial tablets include the names of 14 Japanese officials convicted by the World War II Allies as Class-A war criminals in the 1946-48 Tokyo trials. Like Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, Mr. Abe regularly visits the shrine.]

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