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PacNet #38 – Koizumi Visits Pyongyang: Beginner’s luck?

Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi Junichiro’s visit to North Korea on Sept. 17 yielded an unexpected surprise: North Korea’s Dear Leader Kim Jong-il confirmed the abduction of Japanese citizens by "elements of the military" and made the first-ever official apology. Kim also provided information on the abductees’ whereabouts. While the number of those accounted for has varied in different press reports, as many as 14 may be missing (three more than the Japanese government had confirmed): eight are dead, five are alive, and the condition of one is unknown. This announcement resulted in a 10 percent increase in Koizumi’s approval rating to 61 percent virtually overnight. It also marked a step forward for Japanese diplomacy: Tokyo has demonstrated its ability to take a leadership role in foreign policy without help from the U.S. – Japan’s big brother for the last fifty years. However, matters are not so simple in the domestic theater and the trip was not a total victory in the eyes of the Japanese people.