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Tokyo Increases Pressure on Pyongyang
[Analysis] Japan's decision to enforce financial sanctions follows July missile tests
Hisane Masaki (hmasaki)     Print Article 
Published 2006-09-19 12:15 (KST)   
Turning the screws on North Korea, Japan has decided to impose financial sanctions against the reclusive Stalinist state over its missile and nuclear weapons programs.

The government of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi decided on Tuesday morning to slap financial sanctions on North Korea, which include banning withdrawals and overseas remittances from bank accounts held in Japan by organizations and individuals who are suspected of links with Pyongyang's development of missiles and weapons of mass destruction.

Under the new sanctions, withdrawals and overseas remittances from accounts in Japan held by certain groups and individuals must be approved by the authorities. This measure will freeze assets owned by these groups and individuals because the government will not permit such withdrawals and remittances unless they can prove that they are not involved in North Korea's development of weapons of mass destruction.

The Japanese decision came about two months after the United Nations Security Council adopted a unanimous resolution condemning North Korea's volley of missile test launches.

The U.N. resolution also called on member states to take measures to prevent transfers of money, as well as materials and technologies, that could be used to help Pyongyang produce missiles or weapons of mass destruction.

Japan's decision on financial sanctions also came on the eve of the election to decide the president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). The winner in the election is almost assured of becoming the next prime minister because the LDP-led coalition commands a majority of seats in both houses of the Diet, Japan's parliament.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe, a hardliner toward North Korea, is almost certain to win the LDP vote on Wednesday and then be elected the next premier in the Diet on Sept. 26.

North Korea staged a series of missile tests, including a Taepodong-2, in the early hours of July 5, which was still July 4, Independence Day, in the U.S., sparking an international uproar and raising regional tensions. The shorter-range missiles fired in the tests are believed to be Scuds or Rodongs. All these missiles fell into the Sea of Japan separating Japan and the Korean Peninsula.

With a range of up to 6,000 km, the Taepodong-2 is believed to have the capability of reaching Alaska and Hawaii. A Taepdong-1 missile, which flew over Japan in Aug. 1998, has a shorter range of 2,000 km. Pyongyang claimed that what was launched in 1998 was a rocket intended to put a satellite into orbit. The Scud is short-range and could target South Korea. The Rodong has a range of up to 1,300 km and could target almost all of Japanese territory. North Korea has deployed an estimated 200 or so Rodong missiles.

Just hours after North Korea's provocative series of missile launches in July, Japan reacted angrily by banning the docking of the Mangyongbong-92, a ferry that shuttles between Wonson in North Korea and Niigata in Japan, and which is the main direct link between the two countries. Japan also imposed a ban on entry by North Korean government officials.

After 10 days of raucous debate, the U.N. Security Council also unanimously adopted a resolution condemning North Korea's missile tests and imposing weapons-related sanctions on the secretive state. Japan led the push for legally-binding sanctions. The resolution also called on North Korea to return to six-way talks on its nuclear ambitions.

But defiant North Korea has thumbed its nose at the U.N. Security Council resolution. It has refused to return to the six-nation nuclear talks. The nuclear talks -- involving the U.S., China, Russia, Japan, South Korea and North Korea -- have been suspended since last November because Pyongyang has boycotted the talks in anger over U.S. financial restrictions blocking the regime's access to outside banks for its alleged counterfeiting of U.S. dollars and money laundering.

Japan's decision to slap financial sanctions on North Korea came on the first anniversary of an agreement among the six nations, in which Pyongyang pledged to give up its nuclear programs in exchange for aid and security guarantees. No progress has been made on implementing the agreement, however.

While accelerating efforts to build its missile defense system following Pyongyang's July 5 missile launches, Tokyo has been considering what steps it could take in line with the July 15 U.N. Security Council resolution. The 15 organizations and one individual Japan designated as being subject to financial sanctions were chosen based on information from law enforcement authorities in various countries, especially the U.S. They include 12 organizations, mostly North Korean trading houses and financial institutions, and one individual designated by Washington for its own financial sanctions. The newly imposed Japanese sanctions are in accordance with the country's Foreign Exchange and Foreign Trade Law.

The U.S. administration of President George W. Bush is toughening its stance against Pyongyang. But some other key countries with interests on the Korean Peninsula, especially South Korea, China and Russia, remain reluctant about pushing Pyongyang even further, even though they were apparently embarrassed by North Korea's recent missile launches. Japan and the U.S. have no diplomatic relationships with North Korea.

Despite being allies, the U.S. and South Korea find themselves increasingly out of tune on the issue. The South Korean government of President Roh Moo-hyun has taken a conciliatory policy toward Pyongyang. Bush and Roh held talks at the White House on Sept.14 but failed to hammer out an agreement over exactly how to deal with North Korea and its nuclear weapons program.

Roh said: "This isn't the appropriate time to consider the possibility of a failure of the six-party process [or about imposing sanctions]."

Earlier, Roh went so far as indicating that he accepts North Korea has good reason for developing nuclear weapons. The U.S.-South Korean alliance, forged five decades ago during the Korean War, has increasingly been fraying.

Japan's decision to impose financial sanctions was apparently timed to coincide with the start of a general debate of the U.N. General Assembly's 61st session in New York. Bush is to address the assembly that day. The Bush administration plans to convene a multilateral meeting involving about 10 countries during the U.N. General Assembly session to discuss North Korea. Japan apparently hopes its Tuesday decision on financial sanctions will help the U.S. in its strenuous diplomatic efforts to rally international support for more pressure and sanctions.

Even news reports have been circulating recently that North Korea may be preparing for a nuclear-bomb test. Last year, Pyongyang declared itself to be a nuclear-weapons state. The recent moves by the U.S. and Japan toward toughened sanctions could prompt North Korea to resume its brinkmanship diplomacy.

There are concerns that North Korea could take such provocative measures as another volley of missile launches or a nuclear-bomb test. Any nuclear test by Pyongyang may harden Beijing's stance toward the long-time ally, as Beijing has already expressed its opposition to such a test.

The Koizumi government has repeatedly declared that it will pursue a policy of "dialogue" and "pressure" toward North Korea. But it has put more emphasis on sticks, rather than carrots, recently amid the lack of progress on the North Korean issues.

Japan's Tuesday decision on financial sanctions against North Korea came two days after the fourth anniversary of Koizumi's historic trip to Pyongyang for talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il. Koizumi visited the North Korean capital again in May 2004.

During his first trip to Pyongyang on Sept.17, 2002, Koizumi got Kim Jong-il to admit that North Korean agents had kidnapped some Japanese, some mere teenage girls, in the 1970s and 1980s to train communist spies. North Korea claimed then that 13 were abducted and eight died. Five surviving kidnap victims returned to Japan the following month. The Japanese remain unconvinced, suspecting that some of the eight Pyongyang says have died may still be alive and that other kidnap victims are yet to be tallied.

North Korea has claimed that the abduction issue has already been settled completely. Talks between Tokyo and Pyongyang on the abduction of Japanese citizens, as well as normalizing diplomatic ties and missile and nuclear weapons, have been stalled since February. Pressure for a tougher stance against North Korea is gaining steam in Japan, especially after Pyongyang's July missile launches.
Hisane Masaki is a Tokyo-based commentator and scholar on international politics and economy.

©2006 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Hisane Masaki

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