North Korea’s claimed hydrogen bomb test poses a dilemma for Japan as strong action against Pyongyang could kill already stalled talks to resolve the issue of North Korea’s abductions of Japanese nationals.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government has said it “strongly condemns” the nuclear test and will seek a new U.N. Security Council resolution against Pyongyang as well as possibly imposing further bilateral sanctions on North Korea.
Compounding its view for a firm response is Japan’s shift last year to nonpermanent member of the council and its turn as host of the Group of Seven summit this May.
“As the summit chair and a member of the U.N. Security Council, Japan will properly fulfill its responsibilities for the peace and stability of the international community,” Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters shortly after North Korea announced it had conducted the nuclear test.
Abe wants to host a successful summit ahead of the House of Councilors election in summer, government sources said.
Meanwhile, relatives of Japanese nationals abducted by North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s expressed concern that a resolution of the abduction issue will become even more difficult if additional sanctions are imposed on North Korea.
“The Japanese government will probably go ahead with the sanctions, which would further prolong the negotiations between Japan and North Korea,” said Shigeru Yokota, 83, whose daughter Megumi was abducted in 1977 at age 13. “We just want our family members to come home.”
“The nuclear test and the abduction issue are separate problems,” said Shigeo Iizuka, 77, who heads a group representing abductees’ families.
“Regardless, I hope the government will put the highest priority on bringing home the abductees.”
Iizuka’s sister, Yaeko Taguchi, was abducted in 1978 at the age of 22.
“Even if there are international protests and sanctions (against North Korea), Japan should take its own path toward resolving the abduction issue,” Iizuka said.
Japan officially lists 17 nationals as having been abducted by North Korean agents in the 1970s and 1980s, but suspects North Korea’s involvement in many more disappearances.
Five of the 17 were repatriated in 2002, while Pyongyang claims eight have died and four others never entered the country.
Japan has been urging North Korea to report on the outcome of a fresh probe into the whereabouts of all Japanese residing in the country, as stipulated under a bilateral agreement. But no tangible progress has been reported so far.
The abduction issue has prevented the two countries from normalizing diplomatic relations.
When asked about the influence of North Korea’s nuclear test on the abduction talks between Tokyo and Pyongyang, Katsunobu Kato, the minister overseeing the issue, told reporters the latest development “is a matter that obviously goes against U.N. resolutions. We would like to respond in the proper manner.”
Political analyst Minoru Morita said the government’s stance implied that it was not serious about resolving the abduction issue.
“Using strong words will only further lower the chances of Japan-North Korea talks being resumed and may even prompt North Korea to reject talks. No talks means no solution to the abduction issue,” Morita said.
Morita suggested that Abe was taking the North Korean nuclear test as an opportunity to solidify his hawkish support base ahead of the House of Councilors election.
“If Prime Minister Abe does not adopt a compromising stance toward North Korea, the abduction talks will fall apart,” Morita said. “It seems the prime minister is only posing to appear eager to resolve the abduction issue.”