The ICAS Lectures

No. 2004-0210-DPH

The Japanese Abduction Issue:
A Tale of Two Cities: Seoul and Tokyo’s Contrasting Approaches

Dennis P. Halpin

ICAS Winter Symposium &
Humanity, Peace and Security
February 10, 2004 12:00 NN - 5:30 PM.
Rome Auditorium
The Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies
Johns Hopkins University
1619 Massachusetts Ave, NW, Washington, DC 20036

Institute for Corean-American Studies, Inc.

965 Clover Court, Blue Bell, PA 19422

Tel : (610) 277-9989; (610) 277-0149
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Biographic Sketch & Links: Dennis P. Halpin

The Abduction Issue: A Tale of Two Cities: Seoul and Tokyo’s Contrasting Approaches*

Dennis P. Halpin

(*The views expressed in this paper are my own and neither those of Chairman Hyde
nor the Committee for International Relations, U.S. House of Representatives.)

Ladies and Gentlemen, Sang Joo, Distinguished Speakers, Discussants, and ICAS Fellows:

Let me once again express my sincere thanks to the Institute for Corean-American Studies for giving me one more opportunity to address issues of concern regarding the Korean peninsula. I would also like to briefly express my condolences to the citizens of Pusan, where I served for four years as the American Consul, and to the family of Mayor Ahn Sang-young, on the occasion of his tragic death last week. I was Consul during Mayor Ahn’s first term in the late nineteen eighties. We worked together with the U.S. Navy in arranging a highly successful visit of the battleship USS Missouri to Pusan port, including a number of ship visits by local students and the public. The Missouridrew Pusan citizens’ attention because its critical role at the end of the Second World War. Mayor Ahn and his spouse, a gracious Korean lady, were very supportive of our efforts to promote good local Korean-US relations. I wish to honor his memory in this regard.

We have just begun, as you well know, the Year of the Monkey in the Asian Lunar Calendar. This is a year, according to Chinese astrology1, of "movement, discussion and exchange of ideas." Also "a year of side-stepping problems and clever manipulations" and "a year of transformations." Finally, a year "to be wary of over-optimism, allowing tolerance of the intolerable... Riots, revolutions, the overthrow of rulers, keep everyone on their toes." 1788, by the way, that year of foreboding which directly preceded the French Revolution of 1789, was also a Monkey Year:

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair." 2

Thus begins Charles Dickens’ epoch novel on the reaction of people in two cities, joined by history but also a degree of mutual suspicion and hostility, to the same series of radical events that threatened to transform the world they knew. One city was on an island, the other on the continent; one was thus removed by a small space of water from the unfolding events, the other was directly involved. I am speaking, of course, of London and Paris and the contrasting reaction of their populace to the revolutionary yet horrific events occurring then in France: a revolution, spawned by the cry of "liberty, equality and fraternity," which nonetheless led to regicide and a blood bath of both the ruling class and other innumerable innocents.

England had faced similar bloody events over one hundred years before when the Stuart King, Charles I, was beheaded in 1649 AD for a mixture of political and religious reasons. The English had turned away from such bloody revolutionary change, restored the monarchy, and had endorsed peaceful evolution as a means of political reform Its citizens, according to Dickens, viewed events across the Channel with a mixture of morbid fascination and horror.

Parisians, under the spell of the revolutionary rhetoric of Robespierre and other Jacobins, not only acquiesced in the bloodshed, they often joined in it. Note Dickens spine-chilling character "Madam Defarge" who knit contentedly as victims lost their heads to the guillotine. Within little more than a decade, London and Paris would be battling in the Napoleonic Wars.

But I am not here to speak of events in Europe of over two centuries ago. I wish, of course, to speak of the two Asian cities of Seoul and Tokyo, and their clearly contrasting reactions to the issue of the abduction of their citizens by North Korean agents. As with the mass executions in the French Revolution, these differing reactions today center on the question of human rights and how important it should be in formulating national policy.

Let us start with Tokyo, because the reaction of first disbelief, then shock, then outrage that surfaced there following the September 17th 2002 Summit between Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi and North Korean leader Kim Jong Il is quite easy for Americans to understand. One Japanese observer told me that the bombshell which Kim Jong Il dropped that day was a shock to the Japanese public almost comparable to September 11th for Americans. Kim, despite decades of denial, acknowledged, of course, that "over-zealous" members of his security forces, who were "subsequently punished," had indeed kidnapped thirteen Japanese citizens on Japanese sovereign territory between 1977 and 1983 to provide teachers of Japanese language and culture and to use their identities for North Korean agents to enter South Korea.

Kim Jong Il naturally expected a decidedly different reaction from the Japanese government, press and public. In one of the greatest diplomatic miscalculations of this decade, he assumed that by confessing to the fact that his regime had engaged in these abductions, and then allowing five of the abductees (eight others were reported as dead) to be released for a visit to Japan, he would receive billions of yen in economic assistance. After all, don’t gangsters and terrorists often make successful deals for ransom for the release of kidnapped persons? The "Dear Leader" can be excused, of course, for his fallacious assumption. Hadn’t South Korean and Western media proclaimed the existence of a "new" Kim Jong Il, touted as a skilled diplomat after his successful 2000 Summits with South Korean President Kim Dae Jung and U.S. Secretary of State Albright? Hadn’t no less an authority than Time magazine named Kim Jong Il as its "Asian of the Year" in 2000 "for playing Prince Charming?"

The sudden shock expressed by the Japanese public on September 17th 2002, however, also indicates that a number of clear warning signs had been missed. First and foremost, is the fact that North Korean terrorist-turned Christian, Kim Hyun Hee, had specifically stated in her memoirs, The Tears of My Soul, that she had been trained in North Korea in the nineteen eighties in Japanese language and culture by a woman who had been abducted from Japan. Ms. Kim, of course, went on to masquerade as a Japanese citizen and place a bomb on Korean Airlines 858 on November 29, 1987. The flight exploded near Burma, killing all 115 on board (mostly South Korean construction workers returning home from the Middle East.) The objective was to scare people away from attending the 1988 Seoul Olympics. I remember attending sessions, as a Foreign Service officer, after the bombing, chaired by Ambassador Bremer, who was then Ambassador-at-large for Counterterrorism. Ms. Kim’s role and her claims were discussed at those meetings.

Second, the repeated requests by the families of the abductees over two decades to police and other authorities concerning the whereabouts of their loved ones did not, in retrospect, receive the degree of serious attention that was warranted.

People were missing, lives were shattered, questions were unanswered. The homeland security of Japan had been violated in a fundamental way with the repeated abductions of citizens from its sovereign territory. Those in authority too often assumed that people had eloped, others had somehow decided just to run away and change identity, or that those missing had been the victims of some tragic accident without recovery of remains.

I first met Mr. and Mrs. Yokota, the parents of the abducted thirteen year-old girl, Megumi, when Chairman Henry Hyde held a meeting with them at the American Embassy in Tokyo in December 2002. I have subsequently met with them in both Washington and Tokyo. They are both persons who have suffered what must be unbearable pain with a quiet dignity. But if one looks clearly into their eyes, one can find traces of the agony they have endured. Imagine when they read the report of a North Korean defector that this thirteen year-old girl cried ceaselessly for her mother during the voyage of the damned to North Korea and "was screaming on board, in the darkness, scratching the walls until her nails fell off, begging for help." 3 Imagine when they were told by the same Pyongyang authorities who had lied for over two decades that she had committed suicide in North Korea. Imagine when they learned from these same North Korean authorities that Megumi had reportedly left behind a child in North Korea before she allegedly died, a daughter who was just a little older than Megumi was when they lost her. Imagine when DNA testing indicated that this girl was likely, indeed, their granddaughter. Imagine when the North Korean authorities began stalling on uniting these desperate grandparents with their granddaughter, citing the North Korean father’s right to custody in a macabre replay of the Elian Gonzalez story.

When I think of Megumi, as I have done since I have a thirteen year-old daughter, I cannot help but recall the Elton John song:

And it seems to me you lived your life like a candle in the wind Never knowing who to cling to When the rain set in And I would have liked to have known you But I was just a kid Your candle burned out long before Your legend never did. 4

I do not mean to imply, in citing these evocative words, that Megumi Yokota, like Marilyn Monroe and Princess Diana, is dead. We simply do not know and cannot believe Pyongyang’s statements at face value, given their track record. There are many other such cases. The reaction of the Japanese public has been, however, noteworthy, enveloping the victims and their relatives in the supportive embrace of a national family. And less one think this is irrelevant sentimentalism, please recall: the Japanese public and media reaction to the abduction issue has been such that no settlement of nuclear and other issues can be made in the Six Party Talks without also addressing the abduction question. I have been told by Japanese political observers that it would be political suicide for any Japanese leader to seek a settlement with North Korea that did not include a resolution of these cases. This would appear to be confirmed by Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) Secretary General Shinzo Abe’s visit to three abductees this past Sunday to apologize "for having been unable to help bring their families remaining in North Korea to Japan." 5

The Japanese people, by their unity and determination, have also placed the overall question of human rights in North Korea, that dirty little secret that negotiators seek to avoid -- including recent news reports of chemical experiments on political prisoners, squarely on the agenda for a comprehensive settlement with North Korea. It is important, therefore, that no manipulation be allowed to fracture this unity. When I was recently in Tokyo, there were those who expressed concern that Pyongyang’s reported recent offer to the five abductees residing in Japan to return to North Korea to pick up their children could be a calculated means to split them away from the other families and put the issue to rest nationally in Japan. This eventuality would, it seems, be unfortunate.

There are the eight other cases which Kim Jong Il acknowledged, including Megumi Yokota’s case, where the victims reportedly died in North Korea. There are also scores of other Japanese citizens who disappeared during the time period in question under suspicious circumstances for whom there has been no accounting. There is the case of abductee Ms. Yaeko Taguchi, whom Pyongyang claims died in a traffic accident in 1984 after her Japanese spouse died of "an illness." However, Pyongyang claims that Ms. Taguchi’s body has subsequently been "washed away by flooding" and the remains, conveniently, cannot be retrieved.

There was Mr. Shuichi Ichikawa and Ms.Rumiko Masumoto who failed to return from a drive in Japan in 1978. Pyongyang says they married in 1979 but that Mr. Ichikawa, who did not like swimming, drowned later that year and Ms. Masumoto died of a heart attack in 1981 at the age of twenty-seven. Both of these victims’ bodies were also -- you guessed it -- "washed away during flooding." Returned abductee Hitomi Soga, who disappeared with her mother while shopping, said she and her mother were attacked and abducted together on their way home. But Pyongyang claims Ms. Soga’s mother never entered North Korea. There was also the case of Ms. Keiko Arimoto who disappeared in Europe in 1983 and was reportedly abducted due to North Korean collusion with the Japanese Red Army. She reportedly married a Japanese man in North Korea and had a child but they all allegedly died together of gas poisoning in 1988. 6 How can all of these victims’ friends and relatives ever be expected to accept such patently preposterous stories from a regime that has continually lied to them?

A final case of importance involves Mr. Yutaka Kume, 52, a security guard from Tokyo. While Pyongyang denies all knowledge, Japanese investigators have determined that North Korean agents operating in Japan in 1977 lured this single man, who was known to be lonely with no close relatives and few friends, to a coastal inn. They cynically figured that Mr. Kume would not be missed. From there he was abducted in order to steal his identity. Japanese investigators have linked the Korean resident in Japan who assisted in the Kume abduction to intelligence-gathering operations, reporting that this spy "collected information about the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) and U.S. forces stationed in Japan." 7 This indicates that the abduction issue is not only a human rights question but also a national security issue for both Japan and the United States.

Japanese press reported last week that U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, during a Tokyo meeting with the family members of abductees, assured them that "Washington is willing to raise the issue of abductions of Japanese at the next multilateral talks with North Korea." 8 The families reportedly sought the meeting because they requested that North Korea again be cited by Washington this April on the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism with the specific mention of the abduction cases. Mr. Armitage was reportedly less committal on this issue. I personally agree with the families’ position.

What was striking was that, within twenty-four hours of Mr. Armitage’s Tokyo statement, the new South Korean Foreign Minister made a statement which contradicted the spirit of Mr. Armitage’s message. The Minister was quoted as saying: "it is better not to include the issue of North Korea’s abduction of Japanese citizens in upcoming multilateral talks with the North, as the meeting should focus on eliminating the communist state’s nuclear weapons program." He added, afterwards, "We fully understand the Japanese government’s position and concern over the abduction issue and we support Japan’s position." 9 The timing of the statement, coming directly on the heels of Mr. Armitage’s assurances to the families, can be seen from a Washington perspective as somewhat undercutting those assurances.

Another issue reportedly raised during the Armitage visit was the case of U.S. citizen Charles Robert Jenkins, a GI who deserted, crossed the DMZ into North Korea during the Vietnam War, and subsequently married Japanese abductee Hitomi Soga. He remains behind with their two daughters in Pyongyang and faces prosecution by the U.S. military if he travels to Japan. LDP Secretary General Abe, in his weekend meeting with abductee Soga, reportedly said that he had explained to Mr. Armitage that "it’s important to create a condition so that her husband (Jenkins) can come back to Japan. I hope the United States will be considerate and have a generous thought on the arrangement." The U.S. Embassy said no agreement has been made. 10

Which brings me to Seoul, the other city in my tale of two cities. If a number of Americans admire the Japanese public for standing up for their citizens, one can only say a number of us are perplexed by the stunning silence from South Korea, a nation whose number of abductees far outnumber those of Japan. According to figures published this past weekend, the South Korean National Intelligence Service (NIS) estimates that "North Korea has kidnapped 486 South Koreans since the signing of the armistice at the end of the 1950-53 Korean War, mostly fishermen and airline flight crews and passengers." 11

The most noteworthy recent case for South Korea involved one of the large number of elderly South Korean POWs left behind enemy lines, reportedly against their wills, and apparently largely forgotten in the nation they once served. The number of these POWs still living in the North may be as high as eight hundred, I have been told. The estimate given by the South Korean government is that "the North still holds three hundred South Korean POWs captured during the war. Pyongyang denies it." 12

The saga of Jeon Yong-il has become a cause celebr. The 72 year-old South Korean POW finally returned home in late December after fifty years of captivity in North Korea and then being on the run in China. In a story that sounds like the movie script for the Asian version of the Hollywood refugee classic Casablanca, Jeon reportedly sought the assistance of his Embassy in China, only to be turned away due to a bureaucratic foul-up. Boarding a flight to freedom with a lady (his wife) he was detained by Chinese authorities for possessing false documents and threatened with imprisonment. A belated public outcry in Seoul led to Jeon’s return and tearful reunion with his still living family members. Mr. Jeon proudly stated that for fifty years "he has never forgotten that he was a South Korean soldier." 13 A colleague, who is retired from the U.S. military, was greatly perplexed by the reaction in South Korea to all of this. He noted that one does not feel great assurances from an allied country that demonstrates such little regard for its own elderly Prisoners of War. Perhaps the belief is, as General MacArthur who served in the Korean War famously observed, that these "old South Korean soldiers will never die, they just will fade away" and not be a sticking point in South-North rapprochement?

Testimony given by North Korean defector Lee Soon-Ock before the Asian Subcommittee of the House International Relations Committee two years ago included comments that she had seen elderly South Korean POWs being worked as slave laborers in North Korean coal mines as recently as a decade or so ago. Can you imagine the nationwide outcry in the United States if even one elderly American POW surfaced in North Korea? This Republic would shake in outrage to its very foundations.

Why am I including Mr. Jeon Yong-il and his fellow POWs in a discussion devoted to abductions? This is because Mr. Jeon was an abductee if the definition is a person who is taken and continuously held against his or her will. Mr. Jeon’s case is yet one more proof that North Korea has again violated the 1953 Armistice agreement, in that Pyongyang obviously did not turn Mr. Jeon over to the custody of the UN Neutral Nations Repatriation Commission (N.N.R.C.) to determine his true intentions.

The prisoner exchange, of course, was a great source of controversy at the time, with South Korean President Syngman Rhee refusing to allow anti-Communist POWS to be sent back to the North and several pro-Kuomintang Chinese POWs opting to go to Taiwan. The POW exchange program was as follows:

"Operation Big Switch, August 5-December 23, 1953, was the final exchange of prisoners of war by both sides and, like Little Switch (for sick and wounded), was marked by controversy over voluntary repatriation and , later, by allegations of brainwashing and torture of U.N. POWs by the Communists. The issue of forced repatriation of POWs proved the major stumbling block to successful conclusion of the truce talks. Communist insistence on the return of all captured nationals held by the U.N.C. was strenuously opposed by the U.S. and South Korean governments, although a number of other governments who had committed forces to the U.N. command in Korea argued that the principle of voluntary repatriation should not be permitted to obstruct an early conclusion of hostilities. Eventually it was agreed that a U.N. Neutral Nations Repatriation Commission (N.N.R.C.), chaired by India, would take responsibility for prisoners who had indicated a desire to remain with their captors. During a 90-day period in which the N.N.R.C. held custody of the "non-repatriates," a series of "explanations" was provided during which the nonreturnees were advised strongly to return to their home nations, generally without success." 14 My question: Was Mr. Jeon ever accorded the opportunity of talking to representatives of the N.N.R.C. in 1953?

Another South Korean abduction case of interest to Chairman Hyde and the International Relations Committee involves the case of the Reverend Kim Dong Shik, who was abducted by North Korean agents in China near the North Korean border in January 2000. Reverend Kim, a permanent resident of the United States but still a South Korean citizen, apparently drew Pyongyang’s ire for introducing Christianity to members of the North Korean Olympic team during the 1996 summer Olympics in Atlanta and for assisting North Korean refugees in China to escape to Mongolia. Reverend Kim, who has severe health problems, has not been heard from in over four years.

Reverend Kim’s wife and teenage son have moved to Des Plaines, Illinois and they and their Korean-American church have sought Chairman Hyde’s assistance in locating their missing husband and father. I met with these family members and their friend on a cold, wind swept day in December at the Des Plaines Public Library, near Chicago, to convey the Chairman’s concern. But what can one really say to people caught up in such a nightmare?

Chairman Hyde has written to the UN Acting High Commissioner for Human Rights on Reverend Kim Dong Shik’s behalf asking the UN Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances to look into his case and to cite those responsible for his abduction. The Chairman has also written certain diplomatic missions asking for information on the Reverend Kim. In those letters, Chairman Hyde noted that "before President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, there was a group of courageous Americans who risked life and limb to assist the escape of slaves in an American underground railroad. Today we view those who led this effort, including Ms. Harriet Tubman, to be national heroes and heroines. I would also place Reverend Kim Dong Shik in that category." Is there similar concern in South Korea over the abduction of one of its citizens whose only "mistake" was that he was trying to rescue his fellow Koreans?

We have met with abductee family members from South Korea here in Washington. I especially remember a young woman from Pusan, whose father, a boat captain, was abducted and taken to North Korea. She told me that, unlike in Japan, there simply was no media or other interest in South Korea in her father’s case and those of the others. Why? South Korea, as part of the euphoria which followed the 2000 Summit, allowed for the return to Pyongyang of sixty-three elderly North Koreans who had been imprisoned as guerrillas and spies in the South. It was an emotional homecoming on September 2, 2000 in Pyongyang as these old guerrillas were greeted in the kind of welcome "reserved for returning war heroes...They bowed deeply before the statue of Kim Il Sung. ‘They are our heroes returning home,’ declared the announcer in a live television broadcast." 15 Such a magnanimous gesture on the part of Seoul is certainly to be commended. But who among the many South Korean abductees returned southward in exchange? The sad fact is not a single person.

Then there was the case in Geneva last spring, when the UN Human Rights Commission put forward its historic first resolution citing North Korean human rights abuses, including "the abductions of foreign persons." The South Korean delegation was conspicuously absent during the vote, its chair glaringly empty. Many Americans were again totally perplexed. One colleague asked me if I could ever imagine Israel, for example, not showing up for a vote on a resolution dealing with anti-Semitism. Ambassador Kirkpatrick, in a read-out of her successful mission last spring to Geneva, including the North Korean resolution, said that South Korea’s non-participation in the vote complicated matters. After all, why should some country from Africa or Latin America risk upsetting Beijing or Pyongyang over the human rights of North Koreans if their own brothers and sisters are signaling before the whole world that they simply don’t care?

Some put forward the argument that this is a family matter for Koreans alone and outsiders should not seek to comment or interfere in any way. The problem with this argument is that I have a long memory when it comes to Korea. I was in Seoul in the spring and summer of 1980 for the Kwangju Massacre and its aftermath. Let me explain.

Linda Lewis, an American scholar residing in Kwangju at the time of the massacre, recorded that "my notes throughout the period and even for months afterwards make reference to conversations with both friends and strangers about their initial expectations of support (from the United States government) and, later, their surprise and distress at its absence."16

Many South Korean students, religious leaders, and human rights activists roundly criticized the United States government at the time for not voicing public criticism of their fellow Korean, General Chun Doo Hwan. Chun, of course, has earned the appellation, correctly, in the South Korean press and human rights circles of "butcher of Kwangju." But what does that make Kim Jong Il and his murderous regime? Part of "an axis of evil" would be one not inappropriate description, perhaps.

Helen-Louise Hunter, in her excellent work Kim Il Song’s North Korea, points out the many eerie "1984" qualities of living under that regime. She notes that "To many people, this has raised the possibility of North Korea’s acting irrationally, in attacking South Korea, for instance. It does not necessarily follow that the top leadership will act irrationally, but it does suggest that the people can be expected to do exactly what the regime orders, to preposterous lengths at times, just as the followers of Jim Jones or Charles Manson or other cult leaders have done what their cult leaders ordered, including killing and suicide." 17

While I was visiting Seoul last summer, I asked one of the 386 generation currently serving in the National Assembly, why human rights considerations came before anything, including Washington’s diplomatic relations and peace and stability on the peninsula when it came to Chun Doo Hwan and Kwangju but the same 386 human rights activists want to put human rights on the back burner when it comes to North Korea? He gave a rather weak answer about eventually getting around to human rights after North Korea feels more secure (probably never). He noted I was a foreigner who probably shouldn’t comment since I couldn’t possibly understand Korea. My question then: Isn’t Chun Doo Hwan part of that same Korean family which should not have been open to criticism by foreigners, including American Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, at the time of the Kwangju massacre?

I have also heard the argument made by a South Korean nongovernmental organization (NGO), echoing Pyongyang it seems, that Japan and its abduction issue should be excluded from the negotiations on North Korea because of the historic legacy of Japanese occupation of Korea for thirty-five years, the comfort women issue, and other past atrocities. I take the historic legacy issue seriously. I witnessed the energetic demonstrations organized by the South Korean women’s NGOs regarding the tragic and as yet unresolved issue of the comfort women at the UN’s Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995. More recently, a colleague and I were disturbed when we visited the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo and the adjacent museum dedicated to the Pacific War. The museum’s explanation given for the Nanjing Massacre was especially disquieting. It states: "Matsui (the Japanese commander) told them that they were to observe military rules to the letter and that anyone committing unlawful acts would be severely punished...The Chinese were soundly defeated, suffering heavy casualties. Inside the city, residents were once again able to live their lives in peace." At least three hundred thousand of the Chinese civilians in Nanjing, of course, did find eternal peace after by being butchered by swords, rifles, and bayonets.

My response to the South Korean NGO on excluding Tokyo and its concern over abductions from the Six Party Talks was this: that I had been to Ireland this past summer and had seen the legacy of atrocities covering the colonization of my ancestors for seven hundred years. No one in Ireland, however, said that London should be excluded from the Northern Ireland peace process because of the past. Allies must work together, despite past differences, in addressing pressing issues of mutual national interest.

I would like to close by discussing what I call "a tale of two polls," citing two recent public opinion polls that complete my story of a "Tale of Two Cities." Both polls demonstrate how the North Korean issue has dramatically shaped public opinion in each of the two cities we discussed today, Seoul and Tokyo, just as Charles Dickens described the dramatic reactions in Paris and London to the French Revolution. And, as in Dickens’ book, the reactions could not have been more divergent. While the North Korean question has drawn Tokyo closer to its American ally, it has had the opposite effect in Seoul.

First, the poll from Tokyo: "The number of Japanese who now support the dispatch of Self-Defense Forces (SDF) to Iraq has topped those opposing it despite a fall in the approval rate of the Cabinet of Prime Minister Koizumi" according to a recent Kyodo News survey. "Those supporting the SDF dispatch came to 48.3 percent, up 5.5 percentage points from a mid-January survey, while those opposing it stood at 45.1 percent, down 6.5 points. 18 This represents an apparent dramatic shift in the pacificist, anti-foreign entanglement mentality that has characterized Japanese public opinion since the Second World War.

Why such a dramatic, rapid shift? The answer appears to be North Korea. As one astute Japanese observer told me, North Korea’s 1998 missile firing over Japan and pursuit of nuclear weapons meant "this has become our Cuban missile crisis." But, perhaps more importantly, the September 17th "shock" of Kim Jong Il’s announcement that North Korea had, indeed, taken Japanese citizens away by force made all Japanese citizens feel less personally secure in what they now saw as a dangerous world populated by rogue regimes. Both the homeland and national security of Japan had been compromised. The poll reflects that people have decided something needs to be done about this, including a more active role abroad for Japan.

Now for the more difficult question of South Korea. A recent poll there, conducted by Research & Research, found that "39 percent of respondents said that the United States poses a threat to South Korea, compared with only 33 percent who said the same about North Korea, followed by 12 percent for China and 8 percent for Japan. To be expected, the respondents in their 20s named the U.S. over the North in a 3 to 1 ratio and those in their 30s in a 2 to 1 proportion, demonstrating higher anti-American sentiments among our youth. In contrast, those in their 50s or above, typically regarded as conservatives, chose by a three to one margin North Korea over the U.S. as our chief security threat." 19

The poll results seem to indicate that the real crisis on the Korean peninsula is not between the United States and North Korea. Pyongyang has been an obstreperous opponent for the past half century so its latest duplicity and maneuvering on the nuclear issue should come as no surprise.

The real crisis is between Seoul and Washington. Those who continue to insist that everything is just fine with this alliance are merely sticking their heads in the sand.

Older South Koreans say don’t worry too much about the 386 generation and those even younger, citing an old proverb that "the day old puppy doesn’t know enough to fear the tiger." However, look again at the polling results cited, where America’s core support and goodwill comes overwhelmingly from those over fifty. This tells you one thing: an alliance based upon a dying generation is a dying alliance. Add to this the news reports from Seoul, although officially denied, that there has been "a purge of pro-American elements" in the Foreign Ministry following the recent forced retirement of the Foreign Minister. Many Americans find this also perplexing. Not only does the word "purge" have a disturbing ring to it, but it is generally not the practice of an ally to remove those with a friendly disposition to its ally from positions of influence.

The crisis of Washington’s public diplomacy failure in South Korea may even surpass the current North Korean nuclear crisis in its long-term ramifications. This is not just a problem, this is a disaster. The seeds of it were apparent in Washington’s official silence for nine years regarding the Kwangju massacre of 1980, until the State Department issued its belated white paper in 1989. This is part of what the 386 generation remembers and resents. Further, our public diplomacy efforts in South Korea were being slashed in the nineteen nineties just as the festering wound of Kwangju was coming to the forefront through the unanswered grievances of the South Korean generation that had lived through it as students. Anemic efforts at opening "American corners" in provincial libraries in South Korea, when everyone knows that Korea’s younger generation goes on line to get most of its information from the internet and not off of some dusty book shelves, will not, in my opinion, fix this critical problem. The American government needs to have a more proactive public diplomacy blue print to reach what is becoming the "lost generation" of South Korea if we are to avoid future acrimonious debate over "Who lost Korea?"

And this is why I do not want to see the American government held culpable on the Korean peninsula again by silence on the abduction issue and other human rights violations of the North Korean regime. When the gates of the prison camps in North Korea finally swing open, and perhaps a few old South Korean POWs straggle out with the others, the shock to the international community will be as great as after the revelation of the Killing Fields of Cambodia or the horrors of Dachau.

Given the human rights situation as cited above, I find not the anti-Americanism of the South Korean younger generation disturbing so much as their pro-North Korean romanticism. As with the French crowds that followed Robespierre as the bloody guillotine did its work, there seems scant concern for human rights -- for the rights of abductees like Reverend Kim Dong-Shik or the rights of refugees and other victims of North Korean official treachery and brutality.

Americans are, famously, not a particularly patient people. My cousin asked me, when her son was sent to South Korea to serve in the USFK military police for eighteen months, what he was doing spending time in a country defending a people who don’t like Americans. It is certainly hard to give my cousin a credible answer when she reads that 39 percent of the population that her son and 37,000 other U.S. military personnel were sent to defend see them as "posing a threat." If such attitudes persist and continue to gain credence in Seoul and elsewhere, the calls in America for our troops to come home will only increase.

And then I fear for the future of Korea. It is then that the charming smile of Kim Jong Il will reveal fangs as he demands, with the Americans gone, that Seoul acquiesce in his father’s cherished dream of a "Koryo confederation." And Seoul should not look to Beijing in that case for its salvation. As the recent flap over the origins of the ancient Korean Koguryo kingdom clearly demonstrates, old attitudes of superiority toward Korea linger in Beijing from the days when the Korean Kings sent annual tribute as a vassal state of the Son of Heaven. 20 Those in Seoul who are concerned about "kowtowing" to Washington should have greater concern about Beijing’s expectations in this regard.

As an old Peace Corps volunteer, who has yet to fade away and who first went to Korea in answer to our martyred President’s call to national service, I would like to end on a positive note reflecting my deep personal ties to the Korean people and their culture. Helen-Louise Hunter points out that "there was no freedom of expression within North Korea. No voice has ever spoken out in dissent -- no Alexander Solzhenitsyn or Andrey Sakharov..." 21 Or, I might add, no Lech Walesa or Solidarity Movement or John Paul II, as in the Polish experience. The North Korean people have no such voice, the refugees have no such voice, the abductees have no such voice. I urge the young people of South Korea to get involved in the abduction and refugee issues, to learn to be a voice for those who must remain silent. There will be, for example, a conference on North Korean human rights issues in the Polish capital of Warsaw next month. Participation by South Korean youth groups there would be a positive beginning.

I also note that three South Korean citizens, previously abducted to North Korea, will travel from Seoul to Tokyo this month to testify before the Japanese parliament. 22 Let us hope that this represents the beginning of greater cooperation on the abduction issue between the two cities we have discussed today. The Japanese upper house of parliament passed legislation just yesterday that would allow Tokyo to impose economic sanctions on North Korea or any other country unilaterally "to maintain peace and security." While these punitive measures are not, according to Prime Minister Koizumi, imminent and would only be imposed lacking clear progress in either the abduction or nuclear issues, Pyongyang is furious. The DPRK (North Korea)-Japan Friendship Association in Pyongyang issued a statement urging, as I discussed earlier, that Japan be banned from the upcoming second round of the Six Party Talks. 23

Pyongyang, as a result of this principled action taken in Tokyo over concern for the welfare of Japan’s citizens, may rattle its sabers or even walk away from the negotiating table, as it has done repeatedly in the past. Such tense times are those that test one’s allies’ mettle. Now is not the time, in this continuing tale of two cities, for allies to flag or fail. United on this critical issue of human rights for North Koreans and others unfortunate enough to have come into the grasp of this amoral regime, we stand. Divided we fall. Thank you.

Addendum: Just in case anyone thinks the North Koreans are out of the abduction business, I just got word on a new case via a news article by respected journalist Jasper Becker in Seoul. Last week in Bangkok two North Korean agents attempted to abduct the eldest son of the scientist who provided documentation on DPRK chemical weapons experiments on political prisoners. "He was walking on the street when two North Koreans jumped out of a Mercedes and tried to grab him, but he fought them off and ran away." The scientist and rest of his family have been seized.

Q&A Session following presentation by Dennis Halpin

MODERATOR: Thank you, Dennis. Would you, Yosuke, offer your comments?

YOSUKE WATANABE: The high school I graduated from in Japan - one of the abductees - so this is very personally serious to me, and I'm very much encouraged by the strong statements of Mr. Halpin. But I have some concern that when I meet diplomatic experts and academics in Washington, DC, their general attitude toward abduction is that, you know, "We understand the seriousness and the plight of abductees, but diplomacy has to be realistic, and right now the most serious issue is nuclear weapons issues, so we should focus on that." And at the same time, President Bush, in an interview a few months ago - he also suggested that the topic should be focused on the nuclear issue. So my main concern is that in the coming state department (?) sponsors of terrorism list, at least we are concerned that maybe North Korea could be deleted from the list and - assuming that the meeting which will start at the end of this month will be successful and reach agreement, and maybe the U.S. government might kind of put this abduction issue on the shelf and go ahead with an agreement with North Korea. So my question is - is there that kind of possibility?

DENNIS HALPIN: Well, I'm just going by what Mr. Armitage (?) said last week after he met the abductees' families. He made the statement publicly in Tokyo with the press there, so one would think he's a man of his word, and as far as removing North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism, as I told you, we now have an incident from just last week in Bangkok where they tried to abduct - because I consider abduction terrorism - and I can assure you, if the administration even thinks of removing North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism, they will be hearing from the Congress. I can assure you of that.

LARRY A NIKSCH: Dennis, I think, raised this issue that gets debated about why this Japanese abduction issue is important, and there has been in Washington a lot of questioning of it. I had occasion to write a major article on it in 2002 which was published in both South Korea and Japan, and what I did was to look back at the diplomacy of the abduction issue - how it arose, especially when Prime Minister Hashimoto visited Washington in 1997 - how the Clinton Administration reacted to it and responded to it - and how this merged into a real bout of diplomatic confrontation between South Korea and Japan in the year 2000 when North Korea pressed the Clinton Administration to remove Japan from the U.S. terrorism list, and Kim Dae Jung (?) endorsed the North Korean proposal or demand, and Japan undertook a very active diplomatic campaign against - to persuade the Clinton Administration not to remove Japan from the terrorism list. The result was that the Clinton Administration came down on Japan's side in this diplomatic competition with South Korea, and the result was that Madeline Albright directly said to Kim Jong Il in Pyongyang that the issue of Japanese abductions was not only an issue of concern to Japan but also was an issue of concern to the United States.

Now, when the Clinton Administration launched the Perry (?) initiative back in the Fall of 1999, Dr. Perry came up to Capitol Hill to brief members of Congress and Congressional staff about this new diplomatic initiative towards North Korea. I received several calls from staffers after he gave these briefings, and they told me that in these briefings he raised the issue or the past historic case of South Korean reparations, or Japanese reparations to South Korea in the 1960s. The staffers who called me really knew nothing about this, so I had to explain about the 1965 agreement and the commitments that Japan made to South Korea under the 1965 agreement. But a couple of these staffers asked me, "Why did he bring this up in describing this new initiative towards North Korea?" My reply was, "Because Dr. Perry wants Japan to finance the economic rewards and benefits that he has spoken of, and that he spoke of in his report outlining the Perry initiative towards North Korea." And I think Dr. Perry's recognition is still true today, and this is the point about the abduction issue in the Six-Party Talks. You aren't going to see economic benefits offered to North Korea or provided to North Korea in connection with the nuclear issue; whether it's electricity, entrance into the World Bank, aid from the Asian Development Bank, etc., etc. - unless Japan is fully supported, committed, and is involved in it financially. And as Dennis pointed out, this is not going to happen until North Korea settles the abduction issue. This is the point American negotiators should be making in the Six-Party talks, it seems to me, in pretty strong terms to the North Koreans. We ought to be defining Japan's role more specifically in the Six-Party talks, so that North Korea gets this reality check, this reality message in the most persuasive way that we can deliver it.

Moreover, I think from the standpoint of American interest, one of the things I have always believed about negotiating with North Korea is that you always should go into negotiations with North Korea having several objectives in mind: securing an agreement certainly is one objective. But you ought to have other political and diplomatic objectives in mind as well. And it seems to me that one of those objectives that we ought to have in mind in these talks is to use these talks to strengthen our alliance with Japan. Therefore, our message to North Korea about the importance of the abduction issue and the necessity for North Korea to settle this issue, in order to facilitate any real settlement process of the nuclear issue would not only serve, I think, to give North Korea a reality check, but also would serve frankly to strengthen our ties with Japan, to strengthen how the Japanese people - how the Japanese public views our position on this issue as well. We ought to be killing, frankly, more birds - two birds with one stone in terms of how we deal with this issue at the talks, but it is important and I think the South Korean attitude that this should be omitted from the talks, I think is unrealistic, and I think the same reality check probably needs to be applied to the South Korean government as the Japanese government - and as the North Korean government, excuse me.

DON KIRK: One point that - I just came from Seoul actually - so from what I've seen in Seoul I can say with the greatest respect for Larry's research and so forth, that what he's suggesting is not going to fly. It's not going to get off the ground in terms of the multi-party talks, Six-Party talks. But just to get back to Mr. Halpin's remarks, certainly he gave a most interesting paper. One thing that concerns me is the extent to which this whole issue has been politicized in Washington. I note that anybody who talks about human rights in North Korea these days is branded as a neo-conservative. And those who omit all mention of human rights are realists, in fact, liberals who understand that Kim Jong Il must remain in power, that he is the leader and we have to deal with him and so forth. So I'm sorry that I baited you by a remark that I'm not going to ask you to answer at this time, but maybe Mr. Halpin could comment from this perspective. Mr. Halpin, are you a neo-conservative? And can you tell me why this issue and how this issue has become so terribly politicized here in Washington?

DENNIS HALPIN: Well, first of all, as I said, I joined the Peace Corps. I was inspired by John Kennedy, our first Irish Catholic President - so I don't put myself as a neo-conservative, and I tried to point out in my paper -

KIRK: All right - that's the "neo" part!

HALPIN: Yes, the "neo" part. But in my paper, I tried to point out, in 1980 we were also politicized in Washington over human rights. Jimmy Carter was President when Kwan To (?) happened and he was really distracted by the Iran hostage situation. But then Ronald Reagan and there was this whole thing of the deal for Kim Dae Jung's (?) life and what happened with that, and then Chen Du Won (?) got his big state visit to Washington, and his wife wore the ........ that was the ...... of the queens of Korea and outraged everyone in South Korea by her haughty attitude. But at that time it was the liberals who were screaming against Ronald Reagan: "Why don't you speak out against Chen Du Won? Why aren't you talking about human rights in Korea?" And it was the conservatives that were being accused of being silent. So we've had a total flip-flop now, 20 years later. Now it's the conservatives - people perceived as conservatives or others or whatever, Republicans - being accused of speaking out on human rights in North Korea, and the liberals - and I think it has to do with some legacy from engagement of the Clinton Administration and Madeline Albright's trip to Pyongyang and so forth - only if Kim Jong Il is really this terrible, like these reports on chemical experiments on political prisoners now coming out - if he's really that horrible, you know, there are still probably people in the world, we learned in the Second World War, that are just so terrible that you just can't really engage with them beyond maybe some sort of attempt to avert war. You want to talk about means of stopping war, but you can't really engage them much beyond that because they're just totally at odds with the way the rest of the world is.

WILLIAM B BROWN: Dennis, just a quick question. I mean, I understand the importance of it all from our perspective. What do you think - maybe what Larry said - why doesn't North Korea do something? It seems so obvious that, you know, for huge benefits, all they have to do is release some Japanese citizens. I can't understand the North Korean position.

HALPIN: Well, I think Kim Jong Il opened a can of worms. I think he thought the eight hostages - he'd turn them over and he'd get the ransom. End of story. Like Tony Soprano. And he didn't expect the reaction, and the other problem is - you know - the problem is, there's - I don't know - I sent to Tokyo and asked and didn't get the number - what the North Korean Abductees Association estimate is, but there's all these people who disappeared in Japan at this period of time, and everybody is going to be suspicious now about North Korea. So turning over 10, turning over 15, turning over 20 is not going to answer the question. Then there's the question of the Japanese spouses who moved to North Korea in the '60s. Went over on the ferry, and some of them have wandered into China and are destitute old women who were misled. Well, it's mainly women. Maybe there's a few men spouses, too, but Japanese spouses who were misled, ended up stuck in North Korea, which I can't imagine, and are trying to get home. So the problem is - first of all, for anyone to believe Pyongyang now when they've lied for 20 years about this, to give a full accounting is going to be difficult. And second, more and more cases will come out and it's sort of like unraveling. And then if North Korea has to be more transparent on human rights issues involving Japanese abductees, maybe South Korea - I still hope - someday will start asking about, "Where's our fishermen? Where's our old POWs?" And then the whole thing unravels for Kim Jong Il. So he's trying to put the lid back on Pandora's Box.

MODERATOR: Okay, Dennis. Thank you very much.



2 Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities, The New American Library, 1963 (First Edition, 1859) p. 13
3Mark Simkin, Reporter, ABC News, 7:30 Report transcript, Abduction drama captures Japan’s attention, October 29, 2002
4Elton John; Candle in the Wind, 1973, Dick James Music Limited
5 Kyodo News,Abe apologizes to abductees for failed diplomacy with North Korea, February 9, 2004
6 The National Association for the Rescue of Japanese Kidnapped to North Korea (NARKN) pamphlet titled Abductions of Japanese Citizens by North Korea, 2004
7 Japan Today, Man Linked to Kume abduction gathered military info, January 9, 2003
8The Asahi Shimbun, Armitage: Abductions on agenda, February 3, 2004
9 Yonhap, Japanese Abductions Should Be Set Aside in N.K. Nuclear Talks: Minister; February 4, 2004
10 Barbara Demick, The Los Angeles Times, Japan Asks U.S. Not to Pursue Desertion Case, February 9, 2004
11 The Korea Times, Former South Korean Abductees Will Testify Before Japanese Parliament, February 8, 2004
12 Jae-Suk Yoo, Associated Press, After 50 years in North Korea, former South Korean war prisoner returns home, December 24, 2003
13 Jae-Suk Yoo, Associated Press, After 50 years in North Korea, former South Korean war prisoner returns home, December 24, 2003
14 United States of America Korean War 50th Anniversary Commemoration web page; Fact Sheet on Operations Big Switch and Little Switch
15Laxmi Nakarmi, Kim Jong Il’s New Direction, Asiaweek, Vol. 26, No. 36, September 15, 2000
16 Donald N. Clark (editor), The Kwangju Uprising: Shadows Over the Regime in South Korea, Westview Special Studies on Asia, 1988, p. 23.
17 Helen- Louise Hunter, Kim Il Song’s North Korea, Praeger Press, 1999, p. 34
18 Kyodo, More Japanese supporting SDF dispatch to Iraq, shows Kyodo poll, February 7, 2004
19 Korea Times, Opinion of the US Troubling; Security on Peninsula Should Not be Compromised, January 12, 2004
20 Korea Times, China Accused of Attempting to Claim Korean History as its Own, December 10, 2003.
21 Helen- Louise Hunter, Kim Il Song’s North Korea, Praeger Press, 1999, p. xiv (introduction)
22 The Korea Times, Former South Korean Abductees Will Testify Before Japanese Parliament, February 8, 2004
23Reuters, Japan Passes N. Korea Sanctions; Pyongyang Angry, February 9, 2004

This page last updated 2/12/2004 jdb

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