Japan to toughen sanctions

2009-06-16 10:00

Tokyo - Japan on Tuesday was expected to toughen sanctions on North Korea to punish the communist regime for its latest nuclear and missile tests, officials said.

The government was widely expected to ban all exports to the impoverished state, after the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) backed the move on Monday.

"We are in the final stage of adjusting policy on additional measures against North Korea, including measures on exports... and financial transactions," said top government spokesman Takeo Kawamura.

"We will announce the plan as soon as we make the decision."

The LDP on Monday backed the blanket ban on exports to the North, which totalled 792.6 million yen in fiscal 2008 according to the finance ministry.

A party official said on Tuesday there had been "no change to the approved plan from Monday, and the chief cabinet secretary said the plan is in its final stage because it is only awaiting the formal approval".

Japan's top exports were machinery and transport equipment, such as trains and vehicles, as well as some food products, electronics and other industrial goods, the finance ministry says on its website.

Analysts see Japan's latest sanctions as largely symbolic because impoverished North Korea conducts the bulk of its trade with its communist neighbour China, also its biggest source of aid.

"Japan's additional sanctions won't have a substantial impact on North Korea," said Lee Young Hwa, a Korean affairs expert at Kansai University.

"The only thing left for Japan to do now is to persuade China to fully comply with the UN sanctions," Lee told AFP.

Tokyo's latest move comes amid worries Pyongyang may conduct another nuclear test after the UN Security Council voted on Friday on tougher sanctions.

The UN text, which does not authorise the use of force, calls on member states to impose expanded sanctions on the regime of Kim Jong-Il in response to its May 25 underground nuclear test and subsequent missile firings.

For Japan, a total export ban is among the last economic measures it has left to use against North Korea, with which it has long had tense relations.

Tokyo first imposed formal bilateral sanctions against Pyongyang in 2006, after North Korea staged its first atomic test.

Japan has since stopped all imports from North Korea and visits by its citizens, except in special cases, and banned port calls by its ships, including a regular ferry service.

To target regime leaders, Japan has also banned exports of 24 luxury products - including caviar, fatty tuna and high-end consumer electronics.

Last month Japan tightened a watch on money flows to North Korea, requiring that all remittances over 10 million yen be reported, lowering the limit to a third of the previous threshold.

Kawamura on Monday said Japan was also mulling changes to its laws to allow its navy to conduct UN-authorised ship inspections of North Korean vessels suspected to be carrying missile or nuclear materials.

The chief cabinet secretary said the government would propose details about the plan to the ruling coalition this week.

Japan's post-World War II pacifist constitution strictly limits the operations and reach of its navy, and the coast guard can usually carry out cargo inspections only within Japan's territorial waters.