OSAKA — The junior high school girl, who asked to be referred to only as “Son,” appeared on the verge of tears when she recalled what happened.
“It was a morning in early October. I put on my ‘chongiri’ (traditional Korean dress), got on my bicycle and headed for school. As I was riding along, something struck me in the back.
“I turned around and saw a man drop some stones and run away. It took me a minute to realize that he was throwing them at me,” she said.
Days later, Son realized why she was assaulted when her teacher told her class that students at her school, which is affiliated with Koreans in Japan who are pro-Pyongyang, in Higashi-Osaka were being physically and verbally attacked because of mounting public anger over the Japanese who were abducted to North Korea, and that those wearing chongiri were being singled out.
“I feel sorry that North Korea abducted Japanese,” she said. “But should Japanese society condone acts of violence against us?”
In the nearly two months since Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s historic summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan (Chongryun), a pro-Pyongyang organization, has recorded nearly 300 incidents nationwide of verbal and physical abuse toward its members, many of whom, like Son, are children.
Now, Japanese politicians and supporters of the abductees are demanding that Chongryun be investigated to determine if it assisted North Korea in the abductions, as many people in Japan have long suspected.
Others, notably Diet member Shingo Nishimura, have gone even further, suggesting that Chongryun members who visit North Korea not be allowed back into Japan.
Lee Young Hwa, a Kansai University professor whose family’s roots are in what is now North Korea, however, entertains no doubt that Chongryun played a role in the abductions.
“The best thing is for Chongryun to simply be disbanded,” he said. “And to keep Japanese anger from flaring up further, Korean academics whose roots are in the North should denounce Pyongyang for its actions, as should those Chongryun members who are ashamed of the group’s role. Many who support Chongryun in other areas never advocated the abductions. But they have been silent.”
Lee, a leader of RENK (Rescue the North Korean People, Urgent Action Network), has long been a foe of the North Korean regime.
Chongryun meanwhile remains defiant. In a carefully worded statement released last week, the organization officially claimed that, as a group, it never involved itself in the abductions.
Over the past few years, books by former Chongryun members and spies have alleged that Chongryun was either informed about the abductions by North Korean officials or indirectly assisted agents who carried out the operations in Japan by acting as guides or providing other backup.
To date, no claims have been made that specific Chongryun members took part in or arranged abductions.
While admitting the North Korean regime has many problems, Kim Jong Ui, head of international affairs at Chongryun’s Osaka headquarters, said the abductions need to be seen within the larger context of North Korea-Japan relations.
“We understand very well the feelings of those Japanese families whose loved ones were abducted,” he said. “But Japanese don’t ask themselves why we are separated from our families in North Korea. They don’t study modern history, so they don’t feel anything for the thousands of Koreans who were forcibly taken to Japan under Japanese rule.
“The Japanese abductees and their supporters want the world to believe that Japan is the victim and that all North Koreans are the enemy,” he said.
Since the Koizumi-Kim summit, Chongryun has instructed students at its schools not to wear chongiri. In addition, teachers have been encouraged to have their students write essays about the abduction issue.
In essays publicly released by Chongryun, students express shock at Pyongyang’s admission that it in fact had abducted Japanese, offer sympathy for those spirited away, and urge that normalization talks between Japan and North Korea proceed.
But they do not condemn North Korea for the abductions or offer reflections on what Kim Jong Il’s apology might mean for Chongryun members and other Koreans in Japan.
Kim Jong Ui lashed out at the Japanese media’s preoccupation with the abduction issue, accusing the press of creating an atmosphere of fear that has led to attacks on North Koreans here. But he said Chongryun has no plans to protest formally what it sees as biased coverage.
“Our position in Japanese society is a bit tenuous, so we have not publicly complained to the media, though we have met privately with reporters, editors and producers to convey our concerns,” he said.
Despite calls by Japanese politicians and some activists that Chongryun be investigated, police have so far left the organization alone, Kim said.
“We have only dealt with police when we have received threatening phone calls and the like,” he said.
Both Lee and Kim agree that perhaps the best route for resolving the abduction issue lies not with Japan and North Korea, but with the United Nations.
“The U.N. should be placed in charge of not only resolving the issue of Japanese abducted to North Korea, but also the issue of South Koreans and other nationalities who were kidnapped by Pyongyang, as the historical sensitivities and animosities between Japan and the two Koreas make a bilateral or trilateral solution extremely difficult,” Lee said.
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.