N Korea's missiles met by Japanese sanctionsTOKYO - Just hours after North Korea's provocative series of missile launches, Japan has reacted by banning the docking of the Mangyongbyon-92, a ferry that shuttles between Wonson in North Korea and Niigata, and which is the main direct link between the two countries.
As of Wednesday morning, the ship was anchored in the Sea of Japan about two kilometers off Niigata prefecture.
Also on Wednesday morning, the United Nations Security Council held an emergency, closed meeting to discuss the issue, after a request to do so by Japan's ambassador to the UN, Kenzo Oshima. The request followed an emergency meeting of Japan's national security council, convened by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.
Additional Japanese sanctions are in the pipeline. Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe said "Japan will take any kind of sanctions we can" against North Korea, including economic and financial sanctions. Japan also plans to bring up the issue at the Group of Eight (G8) summit to be held in St Petersburg later this month, Abe said.
North Korea staged a series of missile tests in the early hours of July 5, which was still July 4, Independence Day, in the US. One of the missiles launched was the Taepodong-2 long-range missile, which some claim can hit the western extremities of the US. It fizzled out, crashing into the Sea of Japan less than a minute after launch.
The other half dozen launches were various versions of shorter-range Scuds and Rodong missiles, some of which have a range sufficient to reach virtually any target in either South Korea or Japan. They all fell harmlessly in the Sea of Japan (which Koreans call the East Sea).
"North Korea has gone ahead with the launch despite international protests," Abe said. "That is regrettable from the standpoint of Japan's security, the stability of international society, and non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. This is a grave problem in terms of peace and stability not only of Japan but also of international society. We strongly protest against North Korea."
Meanwhile, Japan's Foreign Minister Taro Aso was consulting by telephone with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. The two agreed that the UN Security Council should take up the issue.
Washington denounced the launches as a "provocation" soon after they were confirmed. "You're going to see a lot of diplomatic activity here in the next 24-48 hours, said National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley. US anti-missile systems based in Alaska, California and at sea were on alert but not activated.
Japan and the US had warned in recent weeks that a Taepodong-2 launch would violate Pyongyang's self-imposed 1999 moratorium on ballistic missile tests, a 2002 agreement with Japan, and also its implicit agreement in the six-party nuclear talks last year. Pyongyang had claimed, however, that its moratorium on ballistic missile tests no longer applied as it was no longer in direct talks with Washington.
While stepping up diplomatic efforts to rally international pressure on Pyongyang to halt its preparations, Japan had threatened to impose economic sanctions in close cooperation with the US if the Taepodong-2 was launched, with or without a sanctions resolution of the United Nations Security Council.
Even before Wednesday's missile tests, Japan and the US reportedly had already begun discussions on a prospective Security Council resolution harshly condemning such action. Foreign Minister Aso said recently that it would be "inevitable" for the Security Council to consider imposing sanctions on Pyongyang if a launch went ahead.
But it remains to be seen how much support Japan and the US can garner. When Pyongyang test-launched a Taepodong-1 missile over Japan's air space in 1998, the Security Council only issued a statement to the press - not a binding resolution or even a chair's statement - expressing concerns. That was because China objected to discussing the matter in the Security Council.
However, this time China may agree to take up the issue because it must be aware of the seriousness of the situation and because of its position as the chair of the six-party nuclear talks. But Beijing's support for sanctions appears unlikely. Among the participant countries in the talks, China, Russia and South Korea have advocated a softer approach to Pyongyang, while the US and Japan have taken a harder line.
China and Russia appear unlikely to agree to economic sanctions against Pyongyang. Because of this prospect, Japan and the US have been poised to cooperate in imposing economic sanctions of their own, even without a UN resolution. Japan has already passed the necessary bills to do so on its own.
In 2004, Japan revised the Foreign Exchange and Foreign Trade Law to allow the government to halt trade and block cash remittances to North Korea - or to any other country, without a UN resolution. Japan also enacted a law that year that authorizes the government to ban the docking of North Korean ships, or ships that have visited North Korea, at Japanese ports. The Mangyongbyon-92 ferry had been widely considered to be among the most likely targets.
Pyongyang has often warned that economic sanctions would be tantamount to a "declaration of war". To be sure, North Korea would suffer if Japan went that far. But the impact of the Japanese punishment would be limited unless other nations, especially China and South Korea, join in the sanctions.
Until 2002, Japan was North Korea's second-largest trading partner after China, facilitated in part by the large ethnic-Korean community in Japan. However, the two-way trade has shrunk considerably in recent years, reflecting increasingly tense relations. Japan has fallen behind China, South Korea and Thailand.
Japan now appears very likely to accelerate work on implementing recently enhanced security arrangements with the US and bilateral cooperation on a missile defense system. In April 1996, then prime minister Ryutaro Hashimoto and then US president Bill Clinton issued a joint security declaration in Tokyo reaffirming the importance of the bilateral security alliance in the post-Cold War era. The next year, Japan and the US adopted new defense cooperation guidelines to flesh out the declaration.
Beginning in May 1999, Japan set about enacting laws needed to put these agreements into effect. The government initially faced opposition the Diet (Japan's parliament). But the increased sense of crisis among many Japanese over threats posed by North Korea smoothed the way for passage, helped by provocations from Pyongyang.
Heading the list of provocations was the multi-stage Taepodong-1 missile the North sent without warning over Japan into the northern Pacific in August 1998. Also, two North Korean spy ships were spotted in March 1999 in Japanese territorial waters off the Noto Peninsula, central Japan. In December 2001, a North Korean spy ship blew itself up and sank after a fire fight with Japan Coast Guard patrol boats in waters off the Amami Islands, Kagoshima prefecture.
North Korea's 1998 Taepodong-1 missile launch also spurred Tokyo to begin joint technological research with Washington on a missile defense system the following year. In December last year, the Koizumi government formally committed to the joint development of a new sea-based interceptor missile, called the Standard Missile-3 (SM3), as a main pillar of the US-led system. The joint development cost is estimated at a maximum of $2.7 billion, with Japan shouldering up to $1.2 billion and the US paying the rest.
Japan also decided in late 2003 to introduce a defensive system, using existing interceptor missiles, by 2007. Well over 100 Patriot Advanced Capability 3, or PAC3, surface-to-air missiles will be procured by the end of fiscal 2010. PAC3 missiles are intended to hit incoming missiles at an altitude of up to 20 kilometers that have escaped missiles launched from Japanese destroyers.
In July last year, Japan revised the Self-Defense Forces law to allow the Defense Agency chief to order emergency missile interceptions without waiting for approval from the prime minister and the cabinet. Since North Korean missiles would reach Japanese territory in about 10 minutes, the defense chief could not afford to follow normal procedures.
On June 23, Japan and the US signed an agreement to formally begin the joint development of an advanced SM3. And recently, the Bush administration reportedly notified Tokyo that it would deploy PAC3 missiles at a base in Okinawa by year's end. The deployment will be the first time the surface-to-air missiles have been installed to defend US forces in Japan from possible North Korean missile attacks.
On June 22, a US Navy ship intercepted a medium-range missile warhead above the earth's atmosphere off Hawaii in the latest test of the US missile defense program. The US said the test had been scheduled for months and was not prompted by indications that North Korea was planning to test launch a long-range missile. The Japanese destroyer Kirishima practiced tracking the target, marking the first time that a Japanese Aegis destroyer had participated in a US interception test.
Hisane Masaki is a Tokyo-based journalist, commentator and scholar on international politics and economy. Masaki's e-mail address is [email protected]