How Japan Got N.Korea to Apologize

Park Jung-hoon Park Jung-hoon

It is not surprising to see North Korea up in arms threatening an "all-out war," ranting and raving in protest when presented with evidence linking it directly to the attack on the South Korean Navey corvette Cheonan. North Korea has committed numerous crimes that cost South Korean lives, but has always denied responsibility and blamed the South for "fabricating" accusations, from the 1968 raid by a hit squad sent to assassinate former President Park Chung-hee to the bombing of the Korean Air passenger jet in 1987 and the submarine infiltration back in 1996. Even when presented with concrete evidence and facing mounting international condemnation, North Korea has accused the outside world of conspiring against it.

But there was one exception. Japan was able to get an apology out of North Korea and received a promise from the North not to repeat such offenses. While constantly touting its "Juche" ideology of self-reliance and repeating the fact that South Koreans are its "brethren," North Korea has bowed its head to Japan while ranting and raving at the South.

In September 2002, North Korean leader Kim Jong-il admitted to visiting Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi that his government kidnapped 14 Japanese citizens. Koizumi had presented Kim with the option of normalizing diplomatic relations, and Kim said the abductions were the result of "rashness and heroism" during the 1970s and 80s by some North Korean officials and offered an apology.

Of course Kim did not become a born-again proponent of human rights. He simply kowtowed to Japan's promises of massive investment. If relations were normalized, North Korea believed, bilateral economic projects would bring in more than US$10 billion in desperately needed capital. The problem was that there was no way for North Korea to avoid the issue of the kidnappings if it were to receive the money. Koizumi, who flew to Pyongyang for the summit, was adamant that he would not sign any deals without a resolution of the kidnapping issue. He even threatened to fly back to Japan if North Korea did not pledge to prevent more abductions.

But Koizumi's hardline stance would not have succeeded without the full support of the Japanese public. Both ruling and opposition lawmakers and even pro-North Korean groups rallied behind Koizumi. Nobody questioned the evidence Tokyo had presented for North Korea's role in the abductions. The entire country joined hands to pressure the North. Kim probably agonized over the choice between apologizing or turning down a $10 billion offer. He finally chose to come clean, but he did not get what he wanted. Mounting opposition in Japan prevented any progress in normalizing diplomatic relations and North Korea did not get any money. The only thing it gained was a barbaric reputation for kidnapping innocent people.

Japan did not have to spend any money to resolve the issue. All it had to do was wave the prospect of $10 billion in front of Kim. Tokyo was firm in its stance that North Korea needed to make the first move, and the public was united regardless of political or ideological leanings.

South Korea, by contrast, gave the North more than $10 billion in the hopes that it would change. At this point, it is not the money that we should feel guilty about wasting but the time, while North Korea did not change one bit and continues to accuse the South with absurd claims.

By Park Jung-hoon from the Chosun Ilbo's News Desk

englishnews@chosun.com / May 28, 2010 13:29 KST