North Korea announced on Friday they had detained a visiting Japanese citizen, triggering two days of efforts by the Japanese Foreign Ministry to identify the man and research his background.
On Sunday, a government source provided some details to the Japan Times. He is believed to be a 39-year-old videographer from Shiga Prefecture. The videographer was in the country as part of an arranged tour, and was originally scheduled to leave on Monday.
The official reason provided for detaining him is believed to be a suspicion that he included footage of a military facility while visiting the port city of Nampo during his tour.
The detention comes amidst a renewed effort at talks regarding a North Korean program of abducting citizens from the Japanese mainland. The program ran in the 1970s and 1980s and was responsible for somewhere between 17 (the officially confirmed count from the Japanese government) and hundreds of missing persons.
North Korea denied the program for decades, then admitted it in 2002 and eventually returned five of the kidnapped. The fates of most of the others are unknown, as is the magnitude of the abductions.
The matter of returning either the abductees or their remains is an emotional one in Japan. Abe originally deferred to President Trump on the matter, after meeting with Trump and getting a pledge that efforts would be made.
US President Donald Trump pledged after a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to work “very, very hard” to “try and bring these folks back.”South China Morning Post, April 19,. 2018
Trump also met relatives of the abductees during his last visit to Tokyo, the emotional high point of his trip as grieving families clutched pictures of their loved-ones.
Both during and after the highly-publicized summit, however, there has been no publicly disclosed effort by President Trump or subordinates in the Administration to address the return of the kidnapped Japanese.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has thus been ramping up efforts at direct talks with Kim Jong Un following the summit between Un and President Trump. Un, attempting to develop his presence on the world stage, has been hesitant to directly negotiate with Abe.
The detention is being seen as a possible political ploy by North Korea to further delay or deny negotiations.
“While securing the safety of the man is the utmost priority, there is the possibility North Korea could use the man’s detention as a card in negotiations with Japan,” a government source said.Asahi Shimbun