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Koizumi's inaction to go on and on until abduction issue solves itself

Koizumi takes a sand bath at a hot spring resort (Dec.17)

This is a sequel to the Dec. 9 TFP story "Kim Jong-Il: Congratulations to Japan's government and media!". But, essentially, we have seen little change since then to the stalemate made up by the two procrastination artists.

On December 8 Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda announced that the cremated remains Pyongyang had said were those of abductee Megumi Yokota had tested negative, DNA-wise, and the Japanese government lodged yet another weak protest against the Pyongyang hoax. 12 days later (Dec. 20) Hosoda updated the press by saying that the government was now considering somehow complying with North Korea's demand that the five pieces of heat-processed bones be returned to it together with the official document on the results of the DNA tests. He added to the effect that the government felt somehow obliged to comply in one way or the other because North Korea would certainly need both the bones and the document to make sure the cremated remains are really fake. In effect, Hosoda was saying, on Koizumi's behalf, that Japan was held responsible to convince the liar that he lied.

Eight days earlier (Dec. 12), acting Secretary General of the Liberal Democratic Party Shinzo Abe, who looks to have suddenly converted from a dove to a hawk since the September 27 cabinet reshuffle, reportedly said: "If we give North Korea one more chance and it fails to respond by a deadline, (the LDP) needs to strongly urge the government to immediately impose economic sanctions." The opportunistically hawkish Abe's proposition was underwritten on December 19 by Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura. On a political talk show run by now-scandal-ridden NHK (Japan's BBC), Machimura said that there must be one more step to be taken before actually imposing economic sanctions against North Korea, if ever the imposition is really inevitable. Like the LDP's acting Secretary General, he didn't elaborate on the pre-sanction step simply because he couldn't. He had no idea, himself, as to what this extra step would be all about. The only point where the Machimura's views differed from the Abe's was that the Foreign Minister questioned the wisdom of setting a deadline for Pyongyang to react to whatever action will be taken on the part of Japan. He just said we should tell North Korea to respond ASAP, and more importantly, with utmost sincerity. All these gentlemen were just alluding to the boss's decision that was to be announced before long, in fine, but flawless, cahoots with the media, as usual. The media's mission here was once again to immunize the general public for the Koizumi's preposterous decision they were going to hear on Dec. 21.

In the meantime every media organization conducted a typical push-poll where the correct answer was preplanted in an easily identifiable pattern. The question was so easy and straightforward this time that more than 70% of the general pollees and 82% of lawmakers ticked the right one: "We should impose economic sanctions on North Korea." As you can see from these polls, the media's primary mission here was to obscure everything at issue by oversimplifying and emotionalizing it when these issues had to be addressed with a sober and analytical mind. For one thing the pollees were not asked exactly when (MM/YY) and specifically how. Even an intellectually-challenged person could have chosen the correct answer. But the fact is that in early November, the LDP approved a sanctions plan compiled by an intra-party task force headed by Shinzo Abe, in which 5 levels of sanctions were defined and proposed for phased implementation. I will come back to this point later in this writing, but for now just let me point out that the government, lawmakers and the media alike, have recently been acting as though they have forgotten that Koizumi approved as recently as 1.5 months ago Abe's absurd plan to implement the sanctions in phases. Actually the questionnaire the pollees should have been shown this time is something like this:

Q1: Do you think Japan should impose economic sanctions against North Korea in one
way or the other?
Q2: If yes, do you think the government's plan to phase in economic sanctions makes sense?
Q3: If not, exactly when do you think economic sanctions should be imposed in one go?
Q4: If you are for the phase-in plan, exactly when do you think each level of sanctions should be implemented?

The result of any opinion survey on the abduction issue that doesn't ask these questions doesn't mean a thing, except it will still help the pollees and the readership of these newspapers vent their frustration. But who cares? The mission was accomplished from the media's and government's point of view just by asking the pollees a simple yes-or-no question. After all Japan is a democracy. So people can choose between yes and no. But how/when/what questions are a different story. (BTW: you will find my own answers to the above questions at the bottom of this article.)

This is not the only aspect that the media have been trying to obscure, or suppress. Another thing the Japan's usually nosey media have been uncharacteristically refraining from scrutinizing is exactly who handed the remains, and how and where, to Mitoji Yabunaka who headed the delegation at the 3rd round of the working-level talks. It is only very recently that the government and the media have started hinting that the mysterious bones were handed to Yabunaka by an unidentified person who just claimed to be Megumi Yokota's widower. Still in a very vague way, they started to say, a week or so after the 3rd round talks, that the bones were not produced across the negotiation table. The trick is obvious: they are just insinuating that it's not Kim Jong-Il, but someone else, that gave the Yabunaka's delegation these fake bones. This is the only way for them to convince us that there's one more step to take before actually imposing sanctions. And this is the only way to interpret Hosoda's statement that he somehow felt obliged to comply, in one way or the other, with North Korean demand that Japan return the cremated remains to North Korea along with the document prepared by the National Police Agency and Teikyo University's forensic experts so their North Korean counterparts can verify the authenticity of the bones and cross-check the results of the DNA tests.

During this 2-week time, the Koizumi government has been working hard to put out alibis for its total inaction. All along the Prime Minister kept saying that although North Korea's attitude on abductions is "abominable", he didn't find it really advisable to step up his always half-hearted "pressure" on Kim Jong-Il, on the worn-out pretext that stepping up the pressure would most probably backfire on Japan, as well as other member countries of the six-way talks, in many ways.

It's against this backdrop that the Prime Minister sent Environment Minister Yuriko Koike, also in charge of issues with Okinawa and the Russian-held Northern Territories, to Washington to see U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and senior director in charge of Asian affairs Michael Green. In doing so Koizumi was expecting the U.S. to support his "cautious" attitude toward North Korea. And actually these Bush's people gave messages that by and large met his expectations. When they were through with the meetings with Koike, Richard Boucher summarized before the press their messages to Koizumi this way: The U.S. is not in the position to tell Japan whether to impose sanctions, but if it goes for any punitive measures against North Korea, they "should be carefully planned and deliberately implemented." Boucher reportedly paraphrased what Armitage had told the Japan's Environment Minister: "(Armitage) didn't recommend one way or the other Japan should take that step." If there was something in their statement that Koizumi hadn't expected, it's the modifier that followed the phrase "carefully planned and deliberately implemented." All in all, Boucher said Japan should be cautious enough "so as to maximize effectiveness and produce desired results." But the printed media in Japan suppressed or didn't stress this modifier, to Koizumi's satisfaction. For instance, if you had looked at the Daily Yomiuri's headline that read "U.S.: DPRK sanctions need careful thought" (Dec.16), you might have thought the Bush's people were subtly discouraging Japan from resorting to sanctions. I don't know for sure, but still that might have been the case.

Apparently, Bush wants his Japanese buddy to watch very carefully every step he takes, or he would rather see Koizumi remain disabled to take any step at all because Bush knows very well that Japan won't be able to handle the situation skillfully. Instead he knows that it's Hu Jintao that he can count on to contain all the destabilizing factors that persist in the region by somehow neutralizing North Korea. Moreover, it would be suicidal for the U.S. to open up another front before things in Afghanistan and Iraq subside. That's why the Bush Administration has given China a free hand over how to handle the Far Eastern situation. Now Bush can expect Hu Jintao to effectively safeguard the stability in the North East Asia which Bush prefers to call the "status quo in the region."

And Hu Jintao, in turn, knows very well that Bush's expectations from him is so high that the U.S. wouldn't find it objectionable even if China one day annexed the northern half of the Korean Peninsula, as some Japanese analysts have already been speculating. Incidentally it's fairly unlikely that China does the same thing to North Korea as Japan did to the entire Peninsula in 1911 before the normalization of diplomatic ties materializes between Pyongyang and Tokyo because annexation before normalization would mean a waiver of the Pyongyang's claim to the huge amount of reparation, most probably to be disguised as ODA once again.

But for now, Koizumi doesn't care too much about the ongoing changes in the Far Eastern geopolitical landscape because it's none of his business. He just wants to give his constituencies their cut in the reparation becoming due when normalizing diplomatic ties with Pyongyang "at any cost."

South Korean President Roh Moo Hyun was also giving a helping hand to justify Koizumi's inaction when the Japan's PM invited the President to a bilateral tieless talks at a hot spring resort in Kagoshima Prefecture last week. They seemed to have casual and friendly talks there. They could further mutual understanding between the two nations. Koizumi was particularly delighted when Roh cautioned, in diplomatic circumlocution, that Japan should refrain from taking any punitive measure against Pyongyang at any point in time. (See the funny picture embedded at the top of this article. Koizumi was taking a hot sand bath, squealing, "Feel nice, why don't you join me?". But Roh declined because he was not in that mood.)

Finally on December 21, the Prime Minister told reporters at his office: "We will urge (North Korea) to give us a sincere response after sorting out all the open issues. Rather than setting a deadline (for that), we just want to see (their answer) as early as possible." In following up his boss's statement, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda reiterated the statement he'd made the day before. The only thing that Hosoda added to his previous announcement was that the government will convey to Pyongyang on Friday, Dec. 24, the results of the analyses of the documents and materials which were handed over during the 3rd round of the bilateral talks.

The media, as well as Hosoda, left it unmentioned whether the "materials" include the bones in question. But my speculation is that they do because the North Korea's media (Rodong Sinmun, etc.) have been repeatedly demanding Japan return the remains and the Japanese government has felt obliged to comply with the demand. If that turns out to be the case, Kim Jong-Il will certainly use his second chance in either of these ways: 1) After "examining" the allegedly fake bones, he hands "back" the real ones to Japan, saying it's not him but Japan that lied, or 2) he just says it's a pity that the bones the Megumi Yokota's widower gave Yabunaka turned out to be someone else's than Megumi Yokota's because of some mistake on the part of his men, so he will order someone to look for the real ones some of these days.

Obviously Koizumi has kept waiting and seeing, and sand-bathing, for so long that now he has already missed the right timing to go for sanctions, most probably for good. Early on he and his men were saying February is the best and most likely timing for Japan to impose sanctions because by then George W. Bush is inaugurated for his second term and the President and the new Secretary of State will have made their positions clear. So will Kim Jong-Il. In that context the Japanese government thought it would just have to keep on procrastinating with its signature wait-and-see attitude. But the problem is, the right timing couldn't wait that long.

As I said earlier in this piece, the government and the LDP came up with a sanctions plan to be implemented in phases based on a simulation of the effects each phase would have on the other side. This plan looked like this:

Level 1 - Freeze on the second instalment of humanitarian food and medical aid
Level 2 - Partial or total freeze on bilateral trade (JPY 30.8 billion, two-ways)
Level 3 - Partial or total freeze on monetary transactions (JPY 110 million, one-way)
Level 4 - Partial or total ban on port calls by North Korean vessels (JPY 2,576 million, one way)
Level 5 - All of above

Note: The numbers in parentheses represent the actual amounts of money transferred between the two countries in fiscal year 2003.

Funnily enough. the so-called 5-step sanctions plan actually involves only four levels. Also funny enough about this ambiguous and watered-down implementation plan is the fact that nobody can tell whether or not Level 1 has already been implemented since the results of the DNA tests came out. Funniest of all, aside from the miscount of the number of steps as well as the ambiguity involved particularly in the definition of Level 1, it looks as though the intra-LDP study group has intended to minimize, not maximize, the effects of sanctions to be felt by North Koreans, contrary to the advice by Armitage. More importantly you can easily assume from these figures that with the possible impact involved in each phase estimated to be of this magnitude, even an all-out implementation of "Level 5" of the embargo plan wouldn't have a killing impact on the other side. So it leaves us wondering all the more why on earth Koizumi told Abe to work on an exercise to split it up into four phases. The only answer that adds up is that Koizumi doesn't mean it at all when he says "atsuryoku to taiwa" (pressure and dialogue).

Koizumi's inaction goes on and on while his rambunctious North Korean friend has further stepped up his belligerent rhetoric against Japan by threatening that North Korea won't take part in the future multilateral negotiations unless Japan is ousted from the current framework of the six-way talks. This indicates the following two things: 1) Kim has great faith in Koizumi's inexhaustible patience as well as his unparalleled ability to procrastinate by getting around the real issue in his open-ended approach toward things. 2) He is well prepared for the worst, and yet least likely, case scenario in which Japan steps up its economic sanctions to the highest level. Maybe Hu Jintao has already promised Kim that China is ready to divert part of Japan's ODA to North Korea if and when things unfold that way.

Here's my answers to my own questionnaire:
Q1: In the affirmative.
Q2: In the negative.
Q3: 1 year ago.
Q4: N/A.

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