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Japan preparing to partially reinstate eased sanctions against North Korea

(Nikkei: January 7, 2016 – p. 4)

 

 Following North Korea’s announcement of its nuclear test, Japan is preparing to reinstate some of its eased sanctions against the North. Since it became a nonpermanent member of the UN Security Council this month, it is also looking to work out an effective new resolution with an eye on imposing new sanctions. But there are growing concerns that tougher sanctions will surely make North Korea stiffen its stance toward holding dialogue with Japan, which may lead to darkening the prospects for resolving the issue of the abduction of Japanese nationals.

 

 The government will first discuss sanctions in collaboration with the international community at the UNSC. At the same time, it will work to step up its own sanctions against the North as much as possible.

 

 It is currently considering measures including the following: (1) banning travel by North Korean nationals between Japan and North Korea and re-entry of senior members of the General Association of Korean Residents; (2) banning entry into Japanese ports by all North Korean-registered ships; (3) lowering the reporting requirement for bringing money into the country from the current 1 million yen or more.

 

 These are the sanctions that Japan eased or removed in July 2014 following Pyongyang’s launch of re-investigations into the whereabouts of Japanese abductees.

 

 Meanwhile, the government is assessing the possible impact of tougher sanctions on the abduction resolution. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe convened the National Security Council twice on January 6. The afternoon session was joined by Katsunobu Kato, minister in charge of the abduction issue.

 

 Some people in the Prime Minister’s Office acknowledge that the impact on the abduction issue is unavoidable. “If the UNSC beefs up sanctions against the North, it will be inexcusable for Japan not to take action due to the abduction issue,” said a source close to Abe. A senior government official noted: “It’s not surprising that North Korea is not willing to resolve the abduction issue.”

 

 But anxiety is also building up over North Korea’s reaction to tougher sanctions. A cabinet minister said: “If Japan toughens sanctions again after it eased them in exchange for reinvestigations into the abductees, North Korea will never compromise on the abduction issue.”

 

 Japan cannot avoid stepping up sanctions against the North if it wants to display its resolute stance in the international community. Meanwhile, if North Korea stiffens its position toward Japan, resolving the abduction issue, a key agenda item that the government prioritizes, will become a distant goal. A close aid to Abe likened the issue to a “difficult equation to solve.” (Abridged)

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