Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Public and the media at odds over NK abductions

There's been a huge amount of coverage in the Japanese press of PM Koizumi's visit to North Korea and the subsequent release from North Korea of some family members of Japanese citizens (who had themselves been abducted and held for many years by North Korea). The Western press has also covered the story. One aspect of interest is the media reaction to public opinion about this issue. This BBC article is typical:

For two years the issue has dominated Japanese politics and diplomacy and forced the government to give top priority to reuniting the families.

"The issue just doesn't lose traction," says Gerald Curtis, visiting professor from Columbia University.

"It draws on a sentimentality, an emotionalism and a feeling of Japan as one big family."

It seems that the public concern for the human rights of the abductees and their family members must be explained - in fact, explained away. Typically for Western comment on Japan, the explanation is 'cultural'. The suggestion is that Japanese people are irrational in seeing this issue as important.

Some people have more hard-headed priorities, and the writer of the article seems to approve:

Mr Koizumi hoped that bringing back the children would finally let Japan get beyond the abduction issue and focus on the very real security threat from North Korea.

It's unlikely that Koizumi thinks that North Korea presents a great security threat to Japan, since he presumably listens to defence analysts. The threat is probably no worse than the threat to Israel from Iraq in 1991, in my opinion - North Korea has the ability to shoot a few missiles at Japan, probably with little accuracy - as they demonstrated by firing one over northern Honshu in the late 90s.

On the other hand, public interest in the fate of the abductees must be irritating to Koizumi and to Japanese elites in general, since it stops them making their own goals the top priority in Japanese-North Korean relations. It's not easy to say if this is generally a good thing, though, since different members of the Japanese elite have different and conflicting aims, including increased trade with North Korea, full armament of Japan and appeasing the current US administration.

1 comment:

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