This article examines the divergent approaches pursued by Japan and South Korea in their attempts to resolve an issue that is related to a fundamental responsibility of sovereign states: the protection of citizens. The case considered here is North Korea's abduction of Japanese and South Korean nationals. In Japan, the abduction issue has taken center stage in the country's North Korea policy, whereas in South Korea, recent administrations have downplayed the issue—despite the fact that nearly 500 South Korean citizens remain detained in North Korea, compared to fewer than 20 known Japanese abductions. The authors find that the key to understanding the divergent responses lies in the politicization of specific, ostensibly apolitical demands for the state to fulfill its duty to protect citizens. In particular, the proximity of the abductions issue to key nationalist themes, which politicians in each country use to mobilize support, prevents the matter from being addressed in a neutral way.

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