National / Politics

In U.N. speech, Japan's spokesman Yoshihide Suga reframes abduction issue as 'global challenge'

Kyodo

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga called Friday for an early resolution to the decades-old issue of North Korea’s abduction of Japanese nationals in the 1970s and 1980s, saying it is a “global challenge.”

Speaking at an event at U.N. headquarters in New York, he said the government has been injecting “maximum effort” to realize the return of all abductees “at the earliest possible timing.”

“We are at a crucial moment as family members age. We will not miss any opportunity to take bold action to achieve the earliest possible resolution,” Suga said.

Japan officially lists 17 citizens as abduction victims and suspects North Korea’s involvement in many more disappearances.

While five of the 17 were repatriated in 2002, Pyongyang maintains that eight — including Megumi Yokota who was taken from Niigata Prefecture in 1977 at the age of 13 — died and the other four never entered the country.

“Can you imagine the agony of the victims who have been waiting for over 40 years, far away from home, to be rescued, and the long suffering of families desperately waiting for their return?” Suga asked.

Friday’s event also brought together Megumi Yokota’s younger brother Takuya, Koichiro Iizuka, a son of Yaeko Taguchi, who was kidnapped from an unknown location in 1978 at the age of 22, and Fred Warmbier, father of Otto Warmbier, a University of Virginia student who died in 2017 following more than a year in detention in North Korea.

“We use this term ‘Chairman Kim’ and I swear it makes me sick, he is a criminal. We give him this status on the world stage and we call him a chairman, he should be called Criminal Kim,” Warmbier said, referring to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Suga is on a three-day visit to Washington and New York through Saturday. In Washington, he met separately with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan and Vice President Mike Pence to reaffirm cooperation on North Korea and the abduction issue.

He briefed Pompeo about Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s intention to hold talks with Kim — without preconditions — to resolve the abduction issue.

During Friday’s event, Suga explained Tokyo’s position of pursuing a new relationship with Pyongyang once the abduction issue is resolved.

“If North Korea chooses the right path, the country can draw a bright future for itself. … Japan is prepared to break the shell of mutual distrust with North Korea and get off to a new start,” he said.