The government does not plan to introduce a law banning North Korean ships from entering Japanese ports, government officials said Monday as the North Korean ferry Mangyongbong-92 docked in Niigata.

“We are conducting a thorough inspection and if there are no problems I wonder if we can ban (the ship) from entering,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda said in the afternoon.

Japan has no law on banning specific ships from docking at its ports. The international maritime treaty guarantees freedom of navigation.

“Our basic policy is to deal with the matter strictly according to our current laws,” Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Teijiro Furukawa told a separate news conference. “We cannot regulate port entry if the ship comes according to the law.”

A group of junior lawmakers of the Liberal Democratic Party is planning to submit a bill that would regulate North Korean ships from making port calls in Japan. But the idea is being questioned by other members of the party out of concerns it might further antagonize relations with Pyongyang.

Such a bill would also flout the international maritime treaty.

Furukawa said the government has “no plans” to make such regulations.

“There are some 1,300 North Korean ships coming to Japan” each year, he said, “and Mangyongbong is only one of them.”

Banning all of those ships would be almost impossible, he said.

Many of the North Korean ships that visit are small cargo vessels. Japanese authorities suspect some could be involved in drug trafficking and other illegal activities.

Later in the day, a senior government official said that while the government is trying to show a “tough stance” by conducting a strict inspection of the Mangyongbong-92d, it is also trying to avoid provoking North Korea just before the six-nation talks on its nuclear program begin Wednesday in Beijing.

Japan is trying to set up a bilateral meeting with North Korea on the sidelines of the three-day meeting, during which it will demand that Pyongyang allow the children of former Japanese abductees who have returned home to also come to Japan.

“We’re hoping for progress on the abduction issue at the meeting,” the official said. “We can’t talk about banning port entry at this moment.”

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.