Fifteen years have passed since then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and North Korean leader Kim Jong Il held talks and signed the Japan-North Korea Pyongyang Declaration on Sept. 17, 2002.
The joint declaration calls on Tokyo to liquidate the legacy of its colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula and Pyongyang to resolve the nuclear and missile development and abduction issues. During the talks, Kim in fact admitted that North Korean agents had abducted Japanese nationals and apologized, and also promised to resolve the nuclear arms issue. Therefore, it appeared that progress would be made toward the overall goal of normalizing bilateral relations.
However, none of the goals stated in the declaration have been achieved. In fact, the two countries seem further apart than when Kim and Koizumi inked their deal.
North Korea has launched intercontinental ballistic missiles that can reach the continental U.S., and claims that it has successfully exploded a hydrogen bomb. Pyongyang is also feared to shortly become capable of deploying nuclear-armed ballistic missiles.
The North has stubbornly claimed that the abduction issue was settled when it announced that five of the victims were alive and eight others had died. Pyongyang officials verbally promised to re-investigate the issue, but no progress has been made since.
Japan has no choice but to accept the fact that the declaration is a dead letter.
Still, all this has not shaken the spirit of the declaration: that peace and stability must be ensured in Northeast Asia.
The declaration clearly states that concerned countries including the U.S. should create a framework to nurture mutual trust, establish diplomatic relations with Pyongyang and build mutual trust in the region. This idea is reflected in the subsequent establishment of six-party talks between Japan, the U.S., South Korea, China, Russia and North Korea on Pyongyang's nuclear program.
The declaration also says Japan would extend economic assistance to North Korea to support its nation-building efforts as well as humanitarian aid. Needless to say, it is unrealistic for Japan to offer such assistance to North Korea now, after Pyongyang's repeated provocative acts. Not only the U.S. but also Japan has been at the mercy of North Korea's strategy of winning concessions by heightening tension.
However, if the international community were to share the common goal of denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula, and Pyongyang were to dispel security and human rights concerns, Japan and other countries could extend economic assistance to the North.
It is necessary for Japan to convince North Korea that if the secluded state were to stop its provocations and agree to abandon its nuclear program, the international community would ease sanctions on Pyongyang and the country could receive cooperation in building infrastructure and other efforts.
Attention is focused solely on North Korea's nuclear and missile development, and the families of abduction victims have expressed concerns that the public's interest in the abduction issue has slipped.
While maintaining the principle of seeking comprehensive resolution of the nuclear, missile and abduction issues, Japan should patiently conduct carrot-and-stick diplomacy toward North Korea.