Tokyo bolsters sanctions on Pyongyang

by Jun Hongo

The Cabinet approved new sanctions Tuesday against North Korea that reinforce previous restrictions on financial and people exchanges with the hermit state.

The measures, which follow the adoption of a U.N. Security Council resolution last week, prohibit all Japanese exports to North Korea and restrict foreign nationals held liable for breaching the sanctions from entering Japan.

The measures, valid until April, are in concert with U.N. Resolution 1874, Foreign Minister Hirofumi Nakasone said.

Japan initially imposed sanctions against Pyongyang in 2006 after it fired a missile and conducted its first nuclear test. They included bans on port calls by North Korean-registered vessels, all imports from North Korea and curbs on cash transfers to the country.

The government will continue to “work firmly and urge North Korea to take specific actions that will resolve ongoing issues,” Nakasone said.

In addition to hardening its stance against Pyongyang, the government is looking to submit a bill to allow the Self-Defense Forces or the Japan Coast Guard to inspect North Korean ships at sea in line with the UNSC resolution to prevent weapons shipments.

Under the current law, the SDF and coast guard can only inspect cargo ships in international waters under circumstances that pose a national threat, and only after the suspect boat agrees to allow Japanese to board. New legislation is expected to allow greater flexibility and enhance the rules of engagement.

“We must prepare swiftly since the U.N. resolution has already been agreed on,” Nakasone said of the new bill.

Japan’s sanctions have been extended and expanded since 2006, most recently in April when the North launched a Taepodong-2 long-distance ballistic missile over the Tohoku region. That sanction was centered on a tighter monitoring of financial transactions to the North, including a requirement that people carrying ¥300,000 or more to North Korea file prior notification, instead of ¥1 million.

But Tuesday’s additional ban on exports could be the final measure because the government is running out of effective options, said Shunji Hiraiwa, a professor at the University of Shizuoka.

“Without any cards left in its hands, Japan’s only choice will be to push for a stronger resolution from the U.N. if the North conducts another nuclear test,” the expert on North Korean issues told The Japan Times.

Many analysts said Tuesday’s sanctions will have a limited impact and a Foreign Ministry official acknowledged that effective sanctions must be a joint effort.

“Obviously, not imposing further sanctions against North Korea is not an option for us,” but almost 80 percent of North Korea’s trade is with China, the ministry official said earlier this month.

“There are things that China can do,” he said. “Sanctions against the North should be carried out globally.”

On the North’s response to continued global condemnation, Hiraiwa said Pyongyang could still return to dialogue instead of carrying out a nuclear test.