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Japan wants U.S. and South Korea to help surveil Pyongyang-linked sanctions evaders in East China Sea

Kyodo

Japan is asking the United States and South Korea to help watch for ship-to-ship transfers of fuel and other goods in the East China Sea that violate U.N. sanctions against North Korea, government sources said.

Japan is the only country watching over ship-to-ship transfers extensively involving North Korean vessels in the waters, the sources said Sunday. The Maritime Self-Defense Force and the Japan Coast Guard are engaged in the mission but want other countries to participate as well.

“If Japan, the United States and South Korea will lead efforts to crack down on ship-to-ship transfers, it will be easier to seek cooperation” from the entire global community, a senior Foreign Ministry official said in Tokyo.

But the South Korean government may be reluctant to work with the Self-Defense Forces, whose existence remains controversial in light of its experience with the Japanese military occupation from 1910 to 1945.

South Korea’s monitoring activities have been limited to waters near its shores, and the United States relies heavily on ally Japan when it comes to patrolling ship-to-ship transfers in the East China Sea, the sources said.

“It’s hard to say if we’ll be able to gain support as South Korean President Moon Jae-in is placing emphasis on seeking dialogue with North Korea,” a high-level Japanese government official said of its outreach to Seoul.

From late January, the Japanese government has exposed three suspicious transfers in the waters involving North Korean and other tankers.

The activities have been banned by a U.N. Security Council resolution adopted last September to condemn North Korea’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile tests.

As a way to share the monitoring burden, Tokyo is considering designating three sections in the East China Sea for the three countries to monitor. There is also a plan to decide a time period in which each country should engage in the mission, instead of assigning a certain section, the sources said.

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