NEW YORK – Leaders of U.S. groups lobbying for the return of children abducted by a parent across international borders reacted with skepticism to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s explanation to U.S. President Barack Obama that Japan is close to joining a convention to resolve such incidents.
“The fact that they are not even addressing current cases does not give me much confidence in Japan’s sincerity on this issue,” Paul Toland, coordinating director of Bring Abducted Children Home, said in an interview.
Toland’s group lobbies on behalf of parents whose children have been abducted by an estranged spouse to Japan, which has yet to ratify the 1980 Hague Convention of the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. Toland has not seen his 10-year-old daughter since she was 1, after she was spirited away by her Japanese mother who has since died.
The group estimates that more than 374 children with an American parent have been similarly abducted to Japan. The Diet is expected to pass legislation in May to approve Japan’s accession to the Hague accord on cross-border child kidnappings.
Mitsuru Munakata, founder of the Joint Custody Action Network in Tokyo, argued that the Hague Convention is only being used for political means. “Japan has been under international pressure on this issue for at least 10 years. Announcing it will join at this point is just a stopgap measure,” Munakata said.
Yet Patrick Braden, who established Global Future, another group working on the issue, said he is “cautiously optimistic” and “grateful to Prime Minister Abe” for Japan’s belated move to join the treaty, although he added that “none of us will celebrate until we see children returned.”
Braden said the Hague Convention might deter some would-be abductors, but stressed that the terms on which Japan joins must not leave any loopholes. His own daughter was taken to Japan from the U.S. by his former wife in 2006. The girl is now 7, but he has not seen her in six years.
Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, who held talks in Washington with Secretary of State John Kerry on Friday, said the top U.S. diplomat welcomed Japan’s efforts to ratify the accord.
Their discussion also touched on Japan’s ongoing sovereignty dispute with China over the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. The islet cluster falls under Japan’s jurisdiction but is claimed by both China and Taiwan. Kerry praised Tokyo for its “restraint” in responding to the heightened tensions with Beijing.
“I want to compliment Japan on the restraint it has shown, and its efforts to try to make sure that this does not flare up into a significant confrontation,” Kerry said at the outset of their meeting at the State Department.
Kerry also reaffirmed the U.S. position that the Senkaku Islands are covered by the Japan-U.S. security treaty, obliging Washington to come to Tokyo’s defense if the islets come under armed attack, and added that the United States opposes any unilateral actions to weaken Japan’s administration of the chain, Kishida told reporters afterward.
Kerry’s remarks echoed comments made by his predecessor, Hillary Rodham Clinton, when she met with Kishida in Washington last month.
Meanwhile, Kishida said he asked Kerry to visit Japan and he replied by saying he will travel to Asia at an early date, and that he hopes Tokyo will be one of the destinations.
During the meeting, Kerry, who slammed North Korea’s nuclear test earlier this month as “very reckless behavior,” remarked that the U.S.-Japan alliance is “strong,” and further noted that “our security commitments to Japan are real, and we stand behind them.”
Kishida thanked Kerry for Washington’s support and called the bilateral alliance “a lynchpin of Japanese foreign policy,” adding Tokyo aims to further reinforce the security relationship.