Tokyo Notes

Sanctioning the Kids?

Is denying school children funds the best way to kick-start progress over North Korea?

As sanction-like measures go, denying funding for children’s education doesn’t exactly have the most positive ring to it.

But this is effectively what has been proposed by Hiroshi Nakai, the minister in charge of the issue of Japanese nationals abducted by North Korea. The media here reported at the weekend that Nakai had asked the education minister to exclude ‘cho-sen gakko’ from the government’s scheme to make high school education free at public schools and to provide financial assistance to families with children attending private schools and international schools. The cho-sen schools have close links with a pro-North Korean group of long-term Korean residents in Japan.

It’s understandable that Nakai wants to be seen to be taking action to stimulate progress between Pyongyang and Tokyo over the abductions, but surely this measure, if adopted, would generate more bad publicity than progress. It wouldn’t harm the existing lot of families with kids at these schools, since they would not become entitled to the new assistance–they’re not having money they are currently entitled to taken away. So it would be difficult to imagine the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan pleading for a change of policy over the abduction issue in Pyongyang as a result. Meanwhile, denying educational funds for these kids would help foment resentment against the government here among the affected families while reflecting badly on Japan internationally.

Now, if the government is to argue that the curriculum at these schools is not suitable and therefore it cannot justify giving money to assist the children attending them, then that’s a different matter.

That’s pretty much what happened yesterday, when Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirofumi Hirano suggested the content of the curriculum at cho-sen schools be carefully examined for ‘suitability’. With the remarks coming so soon after Nakai’s request, was this a case of the government’s chief spokesman trying to put a better spin on the topic? This certainly sounds more reasonable than denying funded education to kids who have never even set foot in the country against which such a measure has been taken.

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All the same, should the measure eventually be adopted using the curriculum argument, you can bet that Nakai will be telling his audience a different story.