In dealing with North Korea, Japanese policymakers focus as much on what they call “the abductee issue” as on the issue of nuclear weapons. In the 1970s and 1980s, North Korean agents seized an unknown number—perhaps hundreds—of Japanese citizens from beaches and city streets, smuggling them to North Korea to serve as language instructors, potential spies, and in other roles that apparently were not well thought out. Some may have been killed so that their identities could be assumed by North Korean agents. Boynton vividly describes the bizarre experiences of some of the victims, who were forced to feign loyalty to the North Korean system—and in some cases actually came to support the regime of Kim Il Sung. So far, Pyongyang has allowed five abductees to return to Japan with their children and has identified eight who it claims have died of natural causes. This accounting has done little to satisfy Japanese public opinion, which is anxious about Japan’s vulnerability to its neighbor’s unpredictable acts. For its part, North Korea points out that during World War II, Japan abducted a far greater number of Korean citizens to serve in mines, on farms, and in factories, and many of them died or remain unaccounted for.
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