December 21, 2004
The party boat: a weekend of music, dancing, friends - and all in honour of two friends getting married
December 20, 2004
If you're interested in reading more before it comes on-line officially, let me know!
Thesis (Leiden University/University of Amsterdam)
Japan and North Korea: How the abduction issue has frozen bilateral relations
East Asia can easily be called one of the most volatile regions in the world today. It is a region which consists of many different cultures, religions and political systems. Not surprisingly, this causes strained relations throughout the region. Unlike Europe, East Asia does not have a collective security regime such as NATO which could help to stabilize the region. The region has been the site of various armed conflicts throughout the twentieth century. Many of these conflicts still continue into the twenty-first century. Though unarmed, for now, several of these conflicts are potentially destabilizing for the region. Examples are various territorial disputes between Japan and Russia (the Northern Territories: the islands of Habomai, Shikotan, Kunashiri, Etorofu), between Japan and South Korea (Takeshima Island) and the Spratley Islands dispute between China, Taiwan, Vietnam, the Philippines and Malaysia all together. It is unquestionably a region where several states are fighting for regional hegemony.
One of the most urgent issues and one that has been demanding attention at various times since the end of the Cold War is the Korean Peninsula. North and South Korea have been divided since the end of the Korean War in 1953. Technically, they are still two states at war. The South has grown into one of the fastest developing states in East Asia, and is by now also one of the most prosperous. The North, in contrast, has been called ‘the hermit kingdom’. It is one of the most closed off societies in the world today, with a struggling economy and a totalitarian regime led by the Dear Leader Kim Jong Il.
The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK – North Korea) is also one of the only countries that Japan has not established diplomatic relations with, somewhat absurd given the proximity of the two countries. This then, brings us to the topic of this thesis.
Topic and research question
The absence of diplomatic relations between the two neighbouring countries of Japan and North Korea is the general issue that this thesis is concerned with. Why is it that it has not been possible yet to deal with each other as equal partners? By comparison, Japan and South Korea normalized relations in 1965, and were able for the most part to put the past behind them.
However, to explain the absence of these diplomatic relations would take much more space and time than available in this thesis. For this reason, I have chosen to focus on only one small part of this complicated relationship: the abduction issue. When Kim Jong Il acknowledged these incidents in September 2002 most observers initially saw it as a non-issue; not anything worthy of academic attention. Looking at it superficially, it is an issue that concerns itself with the fate of perhaps 15 Japanese individuals who were abducted by the North over 20 years ago. Nevertheless, I was curious to find out if it really is no more than just that. Looking at the media in Japan, it is just about the only thing that is mentioned when talking about the North. What about Japanese politics? Is it of any significance to Japanese diplomacy in dealing with this so-called ‘rogue state’? I believe it is.
In the next chapters I will discuss the events of the last few years to discover what exactly the influence of the abduction issue has been, if there is any direct influence at all. Obviously, it is necessary to look at other things than only the issue itself. The region has been disturbed by renewed suspicions about a possible nuclear development programme carried out by the North Korea regime. It is also necessary to look closer at Japan’s foreign policy in general, and if the policy taken towards the DPRK deviates from this standard in any way.
In order to do all of the above, I have decided to take a historical approach to discuss the issue. I believe I can best explain and analyze the events occurring within the bilateral context of Japan-North Korea relations if I do this within a chronological framework. Furthermore, it is not just current affairs that are decisive for the development of the issue. The common history of the two states is still influential on current relations.
The information and arguments in the following chapters are based on the literature available. For much of the recent publications, I have relied on internet sources. Furthermore, because the issue and the developments surrounding it are so recent, I have made extensive use of Japanese newspapers and magazines. In March 2004, I spent one month in Tokyo and Osaka for research. This time was mostly spent in libraries finding primary sources in Japanese. I also had the opportunity to speak with some prominent scholars on this topic, which enabled me to hear different perspectives on the issue. This has helped a lot in bringing more focus in my argument.
Of course, this issue is continuously subject to change. However, because of that fact it is also impossible for me to provide the newest and latest developments in this thesis. By the time anyone reads this, the written material will already be outdated. This is why I have chosen to only discuss the developments up to the spring of 2004, the moment that I came to Japan to do my fieldwork. The most important events after that time will be discussed in a separate postscript but I will not include this in my analysis.
Before going into any details on the abduction issue, I believe it is important to at the very least sketch an outline of Japan’s foreign policy. What are the main priorities for the Japanese government in diplomacy? What are the principles that general foreign policy adheres to? I will discuss this briefly in the second chapter. This will provide a theoretical background for the events described in the rest of the thesis.
Chapter three, then, discusses the mutual history of Japan and the DPRK. Throughout the twentieth century relations between these two countries have been incredibly complicated. The first half of the century, a period of colonisation and war, has left its mark on the way in which both states have dealt with each other ever since. In this chapter I describe the situation up to the late 1990s. You could say that the events surrounding these two countries gained momentum after the North allegedly launched a missile over the Japanese islands in August 1998.
This, in chapter four, is also the point where I will pick up the developments in the region in more detail. The so-called ‘Taepodong’ shock triggered increased awareness of the threat that North Korea posed to the Japanese islands. Among the topics that I will discuss here is the domestic debate that followed from this changing awareness. I will also give a chronological overview of how the abduction issue came into the open, and what effects it had upon domestic politics and other areas.
The fifth chapter starts off where the fourth stops: 17 September 2002. This is the day that Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi Junichirō made a historic visit to Pyongyang to meet with General Secretary Kim Jong Il. It is also the beginning of a change in Japan’s diplomacy towards the DPRK. By focusing on the events in Japan following the summit I hope to be able to discern exactly what was it that brought this change about. Like the previous chapter, this is again based on a chronological overview. While discussing the events, I will go into their wider implications.
The last chapter then will pull together all the different issues that have come up in the chapters up to then. I will give an analysis of the issue, what its characteristics are and, most importantly, how it has influenced Japan’s foreign policy vis-à-vis the Northern regime.
The conclusion, finally, will only briefly recapitulate the most important findings in this research.
December 05, 2004
Not much news here, huh...
The next few weeks will not be much different, I'm afraid. The past couple of weeks have been very hectic with work and trying to organise loads of stuff. The upcoming weeks will be pretty much the same :( Some fun things are also happening though. This Wednesday and Thursday will be the days of my main accomplishment so far: I'm graduating! Both on Wednesday and Thursday I have a ceremony at my two universities. I don't think they could've planned it any more perfectly.
For some inexplicable reason, though, I have chosen to take a final exam on Wednesday. 45 minutes to defend my thesis and translate some Japanese. And I haven't started preparing yet. And I'm at home sick. Aaargh... my body always does this to me when I'm too stressed out about stuff....
I'll survive. This week will be so much fun, I have to be there no matter what :)
The rest of December will be spent on preparing for Tokyo. My visa is a bit more complicated than expected. Or more to the point, I'm making it more complicated than it needs to be. Hope to get it sorted soon, so I can start spending my time on fun things like seeing my friends!
One of my closest friends left for Brussels today. Sad. Somehow I surround myself with people who just can't wait to leave the Netherlands and head for a new country. Luckily another close friend just returned from Africa after five months, but I'll be leaving soon again myself.
Until next time!
[edit@20/12: the exam and the whole graduation thing was overwhelmingly amazing. All those who said I was crazy for taking the exam were wrong... or at least, it actually paid off and I managed to upgrade my thesis-result! The rest of the day and the next were just very cool. Thanks to all for being there and celebrating with me!]