Japan reimposes ban on visits by North Korean nationals and ships


Staff Writer

Tokyo announced Wednesday new unilateral economic sanctions on North Korea following its Jan. 6 nuclear test and the launch Sunday of what Japan denounced as a long-range ballistic missile.

It will ban North Korean nationals from entering Japan and outlaw remittances to the North except for those made for humanitarian purposes and less than ¥100,000 in size. Japanese ports will also deny access to North Korean ships and other nations’ vessels that have called there.

The measures include the reimposition of some of the sanctions Japan lifted in May 2014 to reward Pyongyang for agreeing to look into the fates of Japanese nationals believed abducted in the 1970s and 1980s.

However, the package includes new measures such as freeze on more assets held by individuals and organizations in Japan and a ban on reentry to Japan of nuclear and missile-related foreign engineers who have been to North Korea.

How effective those sanctions will be remains to be seen. Japan has already enacted a number of other sanctions, including bans on exports to and imports from North Korea, but they have all failed to pressure Pyongyang into making any compromises, whether on nuclear, missile or abduction issues.

The main aim of Japan’s newly enacted sanctions is seen as forming a joint front with South Korea and the United States against the North.

On the same day, Seoul announced the suspension of operations at a joint industrial park with the North, which will cut off a key source of revenue for Pyongyang. The U.S. is also expected to announce its own sanctions against the North.

“The three countries have been working closely together” to respond to Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile experiments, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters Wednesday, when asked if Japan’s sanctions were designed to coincide with Seoul’s own announcement.

Japan’s decision came as the United Nations Security Council is struggling to form consensus on a draft resolution over the North’s nuclear test.

Beijing, the hermit state’s main ally, has been reluctant to support U.S. proposals for tough sanctions, according to Japanese officials. China holds a veto in the council.

In May 2014, Japanese and North Koreans diplomats agreed in Stockholm to revisit the matter of missing Japanese citizens, which Tokyo says are still living somewhere in the North.

In July that year, Tokyo lifted a ban on North Korean nationals traveling to Japan, raised the upper limit of remittances and allowed North Korean ships to sail to Japan for humanitarian purposes.

The investigation later stalled when Pyongyang failed to report its findings.

Tokyo’s new sanctions are likely to make it even more difficult to persuade Pyongyang to restart the talks. But Suga told a news conference that Japan will not renounce the Stockholm agreement.

Separately, a high-ranking government official said Japan will “keep the door open” as far as the abductions issue is concerned.

“Our country strongly seeks positive actions by North Korea toward the comprehensive resolution of various issues, such as those involving abductions, nuclear (weapons) and missiles,” the government said in a statement the same day. Japan will “continue talks toward resolution of the abduction issue, based on the Stockholm agreement,” it said.