OSAKA — The Japan Coast Guard, which began its survey of the wreckage of a suspected North Korean spy vessel off Amami Oshima, Kagoshima Prefecture, this week, may discover that the sunken ship is more Japanese than foreign.
“It’s very likely that some equipment on board, including radar and navigation equipment, or even the ship itself, is of Japanese origin,” said Makoto Kurosaka, a professor at Osaka University of Economics and an expert on North Korean activities in Japan.
Over the past years, academic experts and politicians have warned that Japanese companies and individuals are supplying North Korea with everything from used fishing boats to global positioning systems and radar equipment.
A 1999 investigation by Diet lawmakers Ichita Yamamoto, of the Liberal Democratic Party, and Keiichiro Asao, of the Democratic Party of Japan, revealed that a small North Korean submarine sunk in a skirmish with South Korea in June that year contained used electronic navigation equipment manufactured for commercial use by Japanese firms.
“We were told by the South Korean government that nearly one-fifth of the sub’s electronic devices were made in Japan,” said Tatsunosuke Tsuchiya, a secretary for Yamamoto.
In addition to the equipment, some of the boats themselves may be of Japanese origin.
Last June, the Hyogo Prefectural Police arrested and indicted the president of a Kobe-based fishing boat company after it was discovered that he had falsified papers regarding the export of a used boat.
According to police, the boat, which the company claimed was to have been bound for Indonesia, left a small port in Fukui Prefecture in June 2000, but first went to South Korea and was later seen heading toward North Korea.
Since then, authorities have discovered that other used-boat brokers have sent vessels to third countries like the Philippines, but that the boats ended up in North Korea. Like the vessels, the more sensitive electronic equipment is usually sent to North Korea via a third country, often the Philippines or China, insiders say.
Recent testimony by former members of the pro-Pyongyang General Association of Korean Residents in Japan (Chongryon) who claimed to have worked as agents for Pyongyang has shed new light on how some of the equipment may have made its way to North Korea and how spies from the country have infiltrated Japan.
In one of these, a recently published work titled “Waga Chosen Soren no Tsumi to Batsu” (“The Crimes and Punishment of Our Chongryon”), Han Gwang Hee, a former member of Chongryon, said that in the late 1960s, he scouted out 38 locations along the Sea of Japan coast for North Korean spy boats to use as landing spots and that there are nearly 100 similar locations throughout Japan.
“Han said that not one of the 38 locations was ever discovered and that they are most likely still being used,” said Hataru Nomura, a freelance journalist who jointly wrote the book. Han, who was taken ill during his interviews with Nomura, remains hospitalized.
Neither Chongryon nor Japan Coast Guard officials would comment on the contents of the book, both claiming they had not seen the work.
Both Nomura and the publisher, Bungei Shunju Ltd., said Han’s claims have not been contested by Chongryon or Japanese government officials.
However, as Kurosaka and others have noted, while some equipment was probably smuggled to North Korea in this fashion, much was sent through a third country by Japanese brokers — a much easier task, they say, since Japanese laws regarding exports to North Korea are weak.
“Japan’s foreign-exchange control law does contain provisions for the regulation and control of exports,” Tsuchiya said.
“However, there are a number of problems — there is no system for prior inspection to ensure the goods are not heading for North Korea and there are no requirements for the sellers to submit information on who the end user will be.”
While some Diet members are calling for new legislation to curb the export of sensitive electronic equipment and other goods to North Korea, supporters of such a bill say there is opposition, even within the ruling camp.
“Powerful Diet members like (former LDP Secretary General) Hiromu Nonaka are on friendly terms with North Korea and probably received considerable financial support from North Korean support groups in Japan many years ago,” Kurosaka alleged.
“As with the issue of Japanese nationals who are believed to have been abducted by North Korea, certain Diet members don’t want to do anything for fear of having their sources of funding by North Korean support groups cut off.”
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