Japan lifted some economic sanctions against North Korea on Friday after confirming that Pyongyang had formally established a special committee the same day to probe its kidnappings of Japanese in the 1970s and 1980s.
Tokyo promised to lift some of its sanctions if Pyongyang set up a full-fledged organization to again probe the abduction issue. However, other more powerful sanctions based on the United Nations resolutions remain in place, including a ban on imports and exports, and a freeze on North Korean assets in Japan.
Apparently concerned by Tokyo’s decision to lift some of its sanctions, a senior White House official in Washington urged Japan not to make any compromises in its effort to have the North renounce its nuclear weapons development program.
Ben Rhodes, a deputy U.S. national security adviser, said Thursday it is important for Japan to send a message that lifting sanctions “is not going to let North Korea off the hook for the nuclear issue,” according to a Kyodo News report.
“I think the overarching point is that the security threat posed to Japan and the region and the world from North Korea’s nuclear program and its missile program cannot be set aside,” Rhodes was quoted as saying.
Japanese officials have emphasized Tokyo will continue to seek a “comprehensive solution” to the abduction, nuclear and missile development issues.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Japan will lift sanctions based on its principle of “action-to-action,” meaning that concessions will be made only in response to concrete action by the North.
On Friday, Japan lifted its ban on North Korean government officials re-entering Japan and revoked its request for Japanese to refrain from visiting the North.
It also raised to ¥30 million from ¥3 million the threshold for reporting money transfers to the isolated country.
In addition, anyone taking ¥1 million or more to North Korea from Japan will need to submit advance notice to Japanese authorities, instead of filing for amounts over ¥100,000.
Japan will also allow North Korean ships to visit Japanese ports to load goods for “humanitarian purposes,” such as food, medicine and clothing, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said.
Suga said all goods being shipped will be checked by Japanese officials and North Korean ships used for such purposes will be obliged to file an application in advance of their arrival.
“We will not allow any activities other than loading goods. Unloading materials, or embarkation or disembarkation of crew members, won’t be allowed,” Suga said.
But the North Korean ferry Mangyongbong-92 will not be allowed to visit Japan, Suga added. The vessel is believed to have been used to smuggle high-tech devices to the North, some of which were reportedly used to develop its ballistic missiles.