TOKYO — Recovering Japanese citizens who were abducted by North Korea decades ago is the government’s highest priority issue, Japan’s chief cabinet secretary said Friday.
Japan recently began easing some long-held sanctions on North Korea after Pyonyang agreed to reopen investigations into the fate of Japanese citizens who were abducted by North Korean agents in the 1970s and 80s.
The Japanese cabinet believes Pyongyang is serious about empowering its investigators to reveal what happened to hundreds of Japanese who were taken to train North Korean spies, Yoshihide Suga told reporters.
“The North Korean side does have all the information,” Suga said. “They know all of the truth. It’s for them to not hide anything and to explain everything to this special investigative committee.”
Private organizations have reported that as many as 860 Japanese citizens have been abducted by North Korea. Suga said that number wasn’t official, but that the Japanese government would examine each claim.
After denying the abductions for decades, North Korea acknowledged them in 2002 and eventually returned five Japanese citizens used by Pyongyang’s spy apparatus.
Talks over the abductions since then had gone nowhere, but Suga said an exchange of documents and vows of access to Japanese officials within North Korea have provided cause for optimism.
“Doors closed on this issue for so very long have now been wedged open, just a little bit,” Suga said.
In response, Japan has lifted multiple restrictions on North Korea, though its toughest economic sanctions remain in effect.
North Koreans may be approved to visit Japan on a case-by-case basis, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced July 4. North Koreans may also bring more money to Japan, and North Korean ships may port in Japan to take delivery of humanitarian goods, according to the recent changes.
Suga spoke with reporters for an hour Friday, talking mostly about the government’s economic programs.
His prepared remarks made scant mention of the cabinet’s July 1 resolution to allow Japan’s forces to aid the United States and unidentified “close allies” in combat, if not doing so would imperil Japan.
Most recent media polls show majority opposition to the cabinet’s resolution, with greater numbers opposing the method of reinterpreting, rather than attempting to amend, Japan’s post-WWII constitution. Written by the post-war American occupation, it renounces “the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.”
Japan’s constitution has never been amended. Following a reporter’s question on why the government chose not to try, Suga replied that some past governments interpreted the constitution the same way as the current administration.
“As a result, there was no need to resort to constitutional revision,” Suga said.
Although the Diet must still approve legal revisions next spring to allow collective self-defense, the ruling government maintains a comfortable majority in both of Japan’s legislative houses.