A former North Korean agent on Wednesday urged the government to help Japanese-born ethnic Koreans and their Japanese spouses who have defected from North Korea to this country, saying they are living under severe conditions without jobs or Japanese nationality.

The former agent, who goes by the name of Kenki Aoyama, also told a meeting organized by the opposition Democratic Party of Japan that his fellow North Korean agents have told him that there are nearly 80 Japanese who were abducted to North Korea.

Aoyama said there are more than 30 Japanese-born North Korean defectors currently living in Japan, but that they receive no assistance from the government and have uncertain legal status.

“Their status and nationality are left unresolved. They cannot say they are North Koreans in applying for jobs, but they cannot get Japanese nationality either,” Aoyama told the party’s project team on North Korean issues.

He said he recently traveled to South Korea, and saw a difference between how Japanese and South Korean governments treat defectors from North Korea.

“(South Korea) offers assistance not only to ethnic Koreans but also to native Japanese defectors, giving them temporary allowances, job training, apartments and drivers licenses,” he said.

In contrast, native Japanese defectors who have entered China say they do not even have socks to wear through the cold winter, and defectors who have made it to Japan are also living in poverty and despair, according to Aoyama.

“The Japanese government has a responsibility to help the Japanese,” he said.

Aoyama said many of the Japanese wives of ethnic Koreans who went to North Korea in the postwar years have died after being taken to prison for collecting signatures to realize homecoming visits to Japan.

Under a program that was devised by late North Korean President Kim Il Sung and endorsed by the Japanese government in 1959, 93,340 pro-Pyongyang Korean residents of Japan, including married couples and children, moved to North Korea between 1959 and 1984.

Among them were 6,800 Japanese nationals — the wives, husbands and children of Koreans going back to the country. Of the Japanese in question, 1,800 were women married to Koreans, according to media reports.

Aoyama is a Japanese-born ethnic Korean who lived in North Korea for 38 years until 1998, when he defected from the North to China. He claims the Foreign Ministry allowed his entry into Japan in 1999 with a forged Chinese passport.

He was initially scheduled to give unsworn testimony before the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday, but his appearance was canceled late Tuesday as the ruling coalition opposed to the plan, claiming Aoyama’s identity cannot be verified.

Aoyama, who asked that his face not be photographed, spoke behind a screen during the DPJ’s meeting so that he could not be seen by the press.

The former agent said he has provided inside information on North Korea since 1998 to Japanese diplomats in Beijing and in Tokyo, including information about nuclear and missile-development programs, drug trafficking, spying operations and how Japanese spouses are treated badly in the North.

Since returning to Japan, he said he has received between 100,000 yen and 180,000 yen each time he met with Foreign Ministry officials as “living expenses.”

“I gave information about nuclear development in January 1999 . . . but it’s so regrettable that (the Japanese government) did not utilize this information for four years,” he said.

Aoyama added that an international consortium, of which Japan is a member, to build two light-water nuclear reactors in North Korea should be scrapped because it would simply help the North’s nuclear weapons development.

Aoyama, who reportedly worked as an engineer in North Korea, said the light-water reactor technology could still be used toward nuclear weapons development.

Foreign Ministry’s spokesman Hatsuhisa Takashima refused to comment on Aoyama’s accounts.

“We gather information in various ways, but we do not disclose what kind of information we obtained or by whom, nor how we used such information,” Takashima told a news conference later in the day.

On Aoyama’s claim that there are more than 30 defectors in Japan, Takashima said: “We cannot comment on who entered in Japan and how. It’s a matter of privacy.”

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.