Japan, Australia Sanction North Korea

Paul Kerr

In a coordinated action, Japan and Australia announced Sept. 19 that they had adopted sanctions targeting multiple foreign entities tied to North Korea’s ballistic missile and nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons programs.

The governments said that the sanctions were adopted in response to UN Security Council Resolution 1695, which the council adopted in July after North Korea launched several ballistic missiles. (See ACT, September 2006.) The resolution condemned the launches and called on Pyongyang to return to the six-party talks designed to resolve the crisis surrounding the country’s nuclear weapons program. The last round of such talks was held in November 2005. (See ACT, September 2006.)

The resolution requires states to prevent missiles and related “items, materials, goods and technology” from being transferred to North Korea’s missile or chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons programs. This requirement includes preventing the transfer of “any financial resources in relation to” Pyongyang’s weapons programs.

Australia and Japan each punished the same 12 organizations, as well as a Swiss citizen. All are already subject to similar U.S. sanctions. (See ACT, May 2006.) Japan also designated three additional institutions as suspect.

The sanctions restrict the designated entities’ ability to conduct financial transactions in the two countries. In Australia, the designees are prohibited from conducting financial transactions without prior approval from the Reserve Bank of Australia, the country’s central bank. A Japanese diplomat told Arms Control Today Sept. 28 that Tokyo’s sanctions prohibit financial transactions between the designated entities and Japanese citizens or institutions.

During a Sept. 19 press briefing, Tomohiko Taniguchi, deputy press secretary for Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, would not say whether Tokyo plans to renew other sanctions previously imposed after the missile tests. These included barring North Korean officials and a North Korean passenger ferry from entering Japan.

A Sept. 19 Department of State press release praised the actions by Japan and Australia and indicated that Washington might place additional sanctions on North Korea in response to the missile tests.

The statement added that the United States “strongly encourage[s] other states” to take actions similar to Australia’s and Japan’s, but none have yet done so. For example, South Korea halted food and fertilizer assistance to North Korea following the tests but has not announced any further measures.

For its part, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Qin Gang told reporters Sept. 19 that Beijing “opposes” the new sanctions.

More Talks?

Taniguchi stated that the measures are meant to send a “powerful message” that North Korea should return to the six-party talks, which also include China, Russia, South Korea, and the United States. Pyongyang, however, has not indicated that it will do so.

Meanwhile, the United States appears to have somewhat softened its resistance to engaging in bilateral talks with North Korea before the six-party talks resume. U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Alexander Vershbow indicated during a Sept. 21 interview with South Korea’s semi-official Yonhap News Agency that Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Christopher Hill would be willing to travel to Pyongyang for bilateral meetings should North Korea agree to return to the talks.

North Korea has expressed interest in such a meeting. A June Foreign Ministry statement invited Hill to visit the country and “directly explain” the Bush administration’s position regarding the talks.

Hill has never visited North Korea, but the two countries have previously held bilateral meetings elsewhere. For example, U.S. officials met with their North Korean counterparts during past rounds of the six-party talks and held lower-level meetings in New York. (See ACT, September 2005.) Furthermore, U.S. officials told North Korea last fall that Hill was willing to visit the country if Pyongyang agreed to shut down its nuclear reactor. North Korea rejected the proposal. (See ACT, January/February 2006.)

Vershbow’s recent statement indicates a slight shift in the administration’s position. U.S. statements in recent months have suggested that the United States would only hold bilateral talks with North Korea during another session of the six-party talks.

Other participants in the talks have argued that Washington and Pyongyang should meet to resolve concerns about the September 2005 U.S. designation of Macau-based Banco Delta Asia as a “money laundering concern.”

Pyongyang has repeatedly cited that designation, which was followed by Macau’s decision to freeze the bank’s North Korean assets, as the reason for its refusal to return to the talks.