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Abductee rescue operations lost in a maze with NARKN resorting to pointless clam boycott

The government and the media still keep talking untiringly over "possible" economic sanctions against North Korea to press the reclusive nation to disclose the whole truth about those suspected abductees. In the absence of resolute actions by the Koizumi administration, the National Association for the Rescue of Japanese Kidnapped by North Korea (NARKN), earlier this month launched a campaign in which it calls on consumers to boycott asari, or littleneck clams, one of the main import items from North Korea. NARKN said: "We have launched the call for boycott because the Japanese people, who are increasingly mad at North Korea's unwillingness to solve the abduction issue with sincerity, can make a tangible difference and this won't hurt the ordinary North Korean people in anyway."

And the media lauded this non-governmental initiative as an effective way to punish Pyongyang. Especially the Sankei Shimbun, among other dailies, expressed its enthusiastic support with a lot of fanfare as if it weren't the government that had to take an effective step to press North Korea to free all abductees immediately. (January 10 frontpage story.) Despite the Sankei's false optimism, however, nobody really believes in the theory that this will work with Kim Jong Il if Japanese consumers actually stop buying shellfish imported from North Korea that totaled JPY 4.5 billion, or US$ 44 million, in 2003.

For one thing a growing number of importers had already started to mislabel foodstuff from North Korea to mislead retailers and consumers to believe the country of origin is China or Russia. Worse, most of the time this practice of mislabeling foodstuff is not really illegitimate as the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fishery admits. According to the rule imposed by the MAFF, wherever fish or shellfish are grown in two or more different countries, the country with the longest period of "cultivation" should be shown as the origin. So it's a breeze for Japanese importers to circumvent MAFF's rule, most typically by using Chinese aqua-farmers for "fish-laundering."

And if anything, the first thing Japanese consumers should have been dissuaded from buying from North Korea is drugs, not clams. In the last couple of years North Korea has grown increasingly dependent on the export of illegal drugs such as methamphetamine-based stimulants, cocaine, heroin, etc. for earning hard currency. According to a report compiled by the U.S. government last year, the North Korea's export of illegal drugs had reached the US$ 500 million/year mark, that accounted for 70% of an estimated total export revenue of US$ 700 million.

No reliable statistics are available for the portion destined for Japan out of these US$ 500 million-worth drugs. But on an educated guess basis, I'm reasonably certain that at least US$ 50 million-worth stuff must have been smuggled into this country. This 10% assumption is most probably a gross underestimate because 1) the two nations are close neighbors, 2) a growing number of Japanese people have become drug-dependent, 3) still they find the costly habit somehow affordable, and 4) law enforcement officers are pretty much cooperative with their buddies in yakuza syndicates.

Like in North Korea, or China for that matter, we are seeing in our everyday life the population of drug addicts growing rapidly. It's understandable that many North Koreans who could afford to buy drugs have become hooked on them. But I also find it understandable that quite a few Japanese, young and old, have developed the self-destructive habit possibly because they are no longer satisfied with the "narcotics" the "political sandmen" (Ian Buruma's coined words) in the political arena and the media have substituted for sand. Talking some more about sand, when shady former LDP kingmaker Shin Kanemaru visited Pyongyang in 1990 heading a delegation representing construction companies, he succeeded in striking a deal to procure, at a bargain price, actual sand from North Korean riverbeds which was salt-free and perfect for making high-quality cement.

The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare used to publish a white paper on drug abuse when it called itself the Ministry of Health and Welfare. But it seems that the ministry has discontinued the publication for whatever was the reason since the inclusion of "Labor" in its name. Some private estimates, however, put the population of drug abusers at 200,000. But as is true with the population of prostitutes, these are a gross underestimate. If you include MDMA, better known as "Ecstasy", imported mainly from Russia, the number will top one million or even more. It's no wonder that Kim Jong Il has targeted the growing Japanese market for illegal drugs.

On December 22, 2001, a suspicious vessel disguised as a Chinese fishing trawler was spotted in the Sea of Japan. After a shootout between what turned out to be a North Korean spy boat and Japan's coast guard ships, all of the 10 aboard the spy boat were killed, most of them by themselves. Later it was learned that the North Koreans were on their way to smuggle drugs into Japan. Ever since North Korea has seemed to have changed their method of trafficking. Here again China has found a lucrative business opportunity to kill two birds with one stone by intermediating between the producer and the consumer.

I have nothing, in particular, against the North Koreans or Chinese raising hard currency this way, though, because if you are cool-headed enough, you must admit that in any business, wherever there is demand, there is supply. (Likewise it's more or less true that wherever there is a nation "prone" to have its people kidnapped very easily, such as the one whose people, quite a few of them, believed in the fairy tale about a Shangri-la in the northern half of the Korean Peninsula, there are operatives sent by the tyrant governing a neighboring country.)

But just the same it's a pity that the Yokotas, parents of Megumi Yokota, one of the Japanese abducted by North Korea, as well as their colleagues in NARKN, were misguided by someone to believe that the clam boycott would be an effective way to counter the "lack of sincerity" on the part of North Korea. And it's a shame that the media has just been further fanning the family members in that direction without pointing out it's next to useless. In fact NARKN might as well have launched an anti-drug campaign, instead, because its financial impact on the North Korean regime would be somewhat bigger and it would certainly help thwart Pyongyang's plot to spread drug pollution all over East Asia. And you never add cocain to the soup when cooking spaghetti alle vongole.

Let's face the reality: Kim Jong Il has won the game. Koizumi has missed the right timing, for good, for imposing economic sanctions. And the reason Koizumi wouldn't admit he has lost is just because the commander in chief of the pork-barrel operators can still expect the huge amount of reparation, that he is going to pay out of the taxpayers' purse when normalizing diplomatic ties, to boomerang to his industrial constituencies. According to a January 12 report by the Japan Times, 10 construction companies had announced in October that they were planning to send a mission to North Korea to see what they could do to help the country with various civil engineering projects. But Koizumi must have whispered to them at the last minute that it was too early to go there to have a look at possible construction sites. The JT report went on: "(Because of) a public backlash, the ten companies announced they were shelving their trip."

It's about time that someone has told NARKN to re-direct their anger at the right government as it had been doing until the media effectively banned the Yokotas and other family members from favorable media coverages, solely for their failure to appreciate the "feat" the Prime Minister claimed to have accomplished at the second round of the Pyongyang summit on May 22.

In this context all I can tell for now is this: Now that it's dawned on us that it's useless to try to punish the rogue nation in any way, we should direct our attack at our own government because with its total inaction toward Pyongyang, it deserves it most. One practical way of dealing a hefty blow to the boss of the pork-barrel operators will be to refuse to meet our tax obligations. Recently an increasing number of people are refusing to pay subscriptions to NHK or pension premiums to the Social Insurance Agency. And these measures are having significant effects on the nation where the Liberal Democratic Party have monopolized power for 50 years by now.

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