The central government, on receiving word of a North Korean nuclear test and long-range ballistic missile launch, has strengthened Japanese sanctions against North Korea. South Korea has also imposed its own sanctions, and even the United States is making moves in the same direction. To influence China to reposition its passive stance on the issue, an effective move would be for Japan, the U.S. and Korea to show serious resolve toward deterring North Korean nuclear and missile development.
While outlining the sanctions enacted by Japan in response to North Korea’s unwarranted nuclear test and missile launch, the central government took a zero-tolerance posture, announcing that the “acts constitute direct and grave threats to Japan’s security,” and that “they seriously undermine the peace and security of Northeast Asia and the international community.”
The central government spelled out several prohibited activities, including a ban on the entry of North Korean citizens into Japan, money transfers to North Korea, the entry of all North Korean flag vessels, and even a ban on any third country vessels which have previously called at North Korean ports. These measures represent a major shift toward big stick diplomacy from the measured dialogue of 2014, which was used to reach an agreement with North Korea regarding the re-investigation into the abductions of Japanese citizens.
It is now clear that the North Koreans were engaged in dialogue simply to buy time, and that they never seriously considered honoring the terms. It has become obvious that their intent is to work earnestly in the shadows with a continuous focus on brinksmanship diplomacy for nuclear and missile issues. Their current course will inevitably set off significant alarms in the future.
These acts also point to the type of outcome South Korea is inviting with its attempted peace conciliation with the North, represented best by South Korea’s previous Sunshine Policy.
Around the same time as Japan was announcing the current round of sanctions, South Korea completely suspended work at the Kaesong Industrial Region, a North Korea-based economic cooperation project between the North and South. There are fears that a portion of the Kaesong workers’ wages were invested in nuclear and missile development. It is absolutely imperative to shut down all avenues leading to North Korean military spending.
The U.S. Congress also strengthened overall sanctions and passed legislature to target countries with enterprises covertly connected to North Korean nuclear and missile development. It still needs President Obama’s approval; however, the legislation would make China – North Korea’s largest trading partner – and its enterprises a likely target.
But there are those who doubt the effectiveness of these sanctions. Similar sanctions were invoked by Japan in 2006 when North Korea conducted nuclear and missile tests. Regulations on imports and exports had some results, but the sanctions were not able to force a complete isolation of North Korea. This is because China supplied North Korea with food and oil. Japan, the U.S. and South Korea can strengthen sanctions, but as long as China remains absent from the process, it will be difficult to isolate North Korea. It is essential to enlist U.N. cooperation, based on a U.N. Security Council resolution.
For Japan, strengthening sanctions will influence progress on the abduction issue. The decision is full of risks, with a very real possibility that North Korea will abandon its agreement to re-investigate the issue. It creates a real dilemma, but this newspaper wants to see sanctions strengthened at the U.N. Security Council level for more effective results in the immediate future.
In 2001, then President Bush announced a hardline national security strategy to forbid pre-emptive force by state sponsors of terrorism. In response to this policy, North Korea – feeling a sense of crisis – shifted its stance the following year and acknowledged its abduction of Japanese nationals. That same year, the U.S. policy also played a role in the formation of the Japan-DPRK Pyongyang Declaration, which, among other things, froze North Korea’s missile development program.
No one can expect North Korea to acknowledge its wrongdoings and move toward international cooperation as long as it has confidence in the sustainability of its own system. The only viable option is to use pressure from the international community to force North Korea to participate again in the six-party talks and to press for a comprehensive resolution to the issues of nuclear tests, missile launches and abductions.