In her Jan. 8 article, “Japan’s peculiar silence on rights abuses,” Sophie Richardson criticizes the Japanese government’s exclusive focus on the issue of North Korea’s abduction of Japanese nationals while it ignores human rights abuses in countries such as Myanmar or Uzbekistan.

Having studied relations between Japan and the military regime in Myanmar for many years, I myself am bewildered that Tokyo is now insisting on tough economic sanctions against Pyongyang when it has argued in the past that sanctions against Myanmar, advocated by the United States and some other Western governments, would not be as effective as a “sunshine policy” (including some economic engagement) in getting the regime to improve its human rights practices.

In fact, Tokyo’s skepticism concerning sanctions makes pragmatic good sense, since such measures have little impact on states such as Myanmar (or North Korea), whose leaders care little about the suffering of their own people and can get economic support from neighboring countries, especially China.

One can only conclude that the difference between the Myanmar and North Korea cases is that Japanese nationals are involved in the latter, and that their tragedy is being thoroughly and perhaps cynically exploited by Japanese politicians.

donald m. seekins

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