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Visit to Yokota's abduction site most memorable: U.S. envoy Schieffer.

TOKYO, Dec. 10 Kyodo

Diplomatic negotiations with Japan such as on the U.S. military realignment may have been tough tasks, but for U.S. Ambassador Thomas Schieffer a visit to the site where a 13-year-old Japanese girl was believed to be abducted in 1977 by North Korean agents beat all other events as the most memorable during his soon-to-end tenure in Tokyo.

Schieffer, who was named the 2008 Person of the Year by the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan on Wednesday, also said that while his three-year term has been a ''busy time,'' it has achieved ''a lot of positive things'' such as fruitful negotiations on the realignment as well as stronger bilateral relations since the time of former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's administration.

''The most memorable had to be the time when I went up to Niigata and walked with the Yokotas on the path that Megumi took,'' Schieffer, whose ambassadorship is expected to end next month, told reporters.

He was referring to a visit in March 2006 to the hometown of abductee Megumi Yokota, who is among at least a dozen missing Japanese believed to have been kidnapped to the North.

The ambassador has played an important role in raising the abduction issue with U.S. President George W. Bush and facilitated a meeting between Bush and Yokota's mother Sakie in Washington in late April that year. Bush later described the meeting as ''one of the most moving meetings since I've been the president.''

When Washington took North Korea off its blacklist of nations sponsoring terrorism this October, Schieffer met in person with the families of the missing abductees in Tokyo and sought their understanding that the decision was made to keep the stalled six-party nuclear talks with the North alive.

No progress has been made since then on the abduction issue, including Pyongyang's promise to reinvestigate the cases.

In his acceptance speech at the ACCJ award ceremony on Wednesday, Schieffer warned that Japan must open its market to foreign investors and that especially amid current financial difficulties reverting to protectionism by Japan and the United States would be damaging to both sides.

''Most Japanese would argue today, I think, that Japan's future prosperity is dependent upon engaging the rest of the world. Yet there are still a significant number of Japanese who argue that Japan would be better off if it erected regulatory and technical barriers to make it more difficult for foreigners to do business in Japan than it is for Japanese to do business abroad,'' the envoy said.

''If 'Japan passing' occurs in the future, it will not be, in my judgment, because of this or that American was elected president. It will be because Japan believes that it has no role to play in the international community and foreigners are not welcome in the (Japanese) economy,'' Schieffer added.

He also told an audience of business representatives at the ceremony that governments should act to ensure the integrity of free markets, saying, ''Market places, like baseball games, need good umpires and government should perform that function.''

The ACCJ created the Person of the Year award in 1996 in recognition of individuals who have made significant contributions to business and commerce and the U.S.-Japan relationship.

Allan Smith, president of the chamber, said Schieffer was awarded for having been a ''resolute advocate'' for bilateral ties during his tenure and for his ''leadership in promoting the U.S.-Japan relationship at such a critical time in the development of the global economy.''

Schieffer, who served as ambassador to Australia in 2001-05 before his posting to Tokyo, has said he plans to step down together with the Bush administration in January as he feels he has fulfilled his duties.
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Publication:Japan Policy & Politics
Geographic Code:9JAPA
Date:Dec 15, 2008
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