David C. Kang
Japan: U.S. Partner or
Focused on Abductees?
© 2005 by The Center for Strategic and International Studies and the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology
The Washington Quarterly • 28:4 pp. 107–117.
THE WASHINGTON QUARTERLY AUTUMN 2005
David C. Kang is an associate professor in the government department and adjunct
associate professor at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College. The author
would like to thank Ellen Frost for her helpful comments on earlier drafts of this piece.
Differences between the South Korean views, along with the Chi-
nese, and those of the United States became evident soon after the second
North Korean nuclear crisis erupted in the fall of 2002. Although diver-
gences between Japan’s priorities and policies and those of the United States
have been less obvious, they also exist. Japan usually tends to follow the
U.S. lead, but it has carefully avoided binding itself to Washington’s position
on the North Korean nuclear issue. Despite a U.S. attempt to isolate North
Korea, Japanese prime minister Junichiro Koizumi has traveled to Pyongyang
twice since 2002, at one point suggesting that normalization of diplomatic
relations between Japan and North Korea could occur during his tenure.
Furthermore, although Japan is deeply concerned about North Korea’s nuclear
program, the issue of the roughly two dozen Japanese citizens abducted by
North Korean agents in the 1970s for espionage training is now threatening
to overtake Japanese foreign policy toward North Korea to the exclusion of
Since 2002, Japan’s overall attitudes and policies toward North Korea
have moved from initial enthusiasm for rapprochement to frustration and
the contemplation of more coercive measures. With the six-party talks at
an impasse for almost a year, Japan has been slowly moving toward a
harder line on North Korea, even considering imposing economic sanc-
tions, but it has pursued a policy independent of the United States. Al-
though the United States has put all other negotiations with Nor