Japan backs US on N. Korea sanctions

Japan warns that the N. Korea regime’s advances in missile technology are complicating its ability


SEOULJapan backed a US push for the United Nations (UN) Security Council to vote today on fresh sanctions against North Korea, saying that Kim Jong Un’s (picture) nuclear programme poses the most serious threat since World War II.

Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera yesterday urged tougher sanctions including curbing oil supplies to North Korea. He warned that the regime’s advances in missile technology are complicating Japan’s ability to intercept them.

“Japan’s security environment including North Korea is increasingly grave — perhaps it’s the most serious state in the post-war period,” Onodera told public broadcaster NHK. “If North Korea-bound oil, mainly coming from China, decreases through pressure by the international community, it will be difficult for North Korea to operate its missile brigades.”

President Donald Trump’s administration is pushing the Security Council to adopt a united stance as Kim gets closer to being able to strike the US with a nuclear weapon.

China and Russia, which can veto any UN measures, have expressed scepticism that tough sanctions will stop North Korea’s nuclear push and have pushed for peace talks.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel told German media outlet Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung that she would “say yes immediately” if asked to participate in a diplomatic initiative to end North Korea’s nuclear programme. Germany took part alongside five UN veto powers in negotiations to restrain Iran’s nuclear programme.

The US has warned that time is running out to act. North Korea detonated its sixth and most powerful nuclear bomb last Sunday, which it said was a hydrogen device. South Korea has detected moves that indicate it may soon launch another intercontinental ballistic missile.

Kim, who has said he won’t negotiate unless the US drops its “hostile policies”, threw a banquet for nuclear scientists and technicians to celebrate the hydrogen bomb test, the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported yesterday.

North Korean state-run newspaper Rodong Sinmun said in an editorial on Saturday that Pyongyang was now a nuclear power and praised Kim for strengthening “defences to protect the Korean peninsula from invasion”. KCNA said in a commentary also on Saturday that the US was resorting to sanctions and pressure rather than seeking talks.

The US has circulated a draft resolution that would, aside from barring crude oil shipments to North Korea, ban the nation’s exports of textiles and prohibit employment of its guest workers by other countries, according to a diplomat at the world body. The proposal, which also calls for freezing Kim’s assets, has been sent to the 15 members of the Security Council, the diplomat said.

The US is willing to risk a veto of its proposal rather than see it watered down, according to a Security Council diplomat who asked not to be identified while negotiations are ongoing.

A halt to oil exports is far from certain. While China and Russia have condemned Kim’s actions, they have said the ultimate goal needs to be to coax him to the negotiating table and avoid a war.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said more sanctions wouldn’t work, while China is wary about cutting off Kim’s economic lifeline to the point it risks collapsing his regime. China is North Korea’s main ally and by far its biggest trading partner, including for oil shipments. Observers have said Beijing might agree to just a partial, or temporary, oil exports ban.

China will support further UN action if it helps restart dialogue with North Korea, Foreign Minister Wang Yi said last Thursday.

Last Thursday, Trump said it wasn’t inevitable that the US would end up in a war with North Korea, but that military action remained an option.

“I would prefer not going the route of the military, but it is something certainly that could happen,” Trump said in a press conference at the White House.

He declined to say if he’d accept a nuclear-armed North Korea that can be successfully deterred from using such weapons. A senior administration official later told reporters the US won’t let North Korea extort or threaten the world with its nuclear programme, and that the administration isn’t sure the country could be deterred.

The official said the danger of war is rising, and the US is also concerned about North Korea exporting its nuclear technology to other nations or to terrorist groups.

Onodera yesterday called on Japanese lawmakers to agree to the government’s request for a record defence budget next fiscal year. Tracking North Korean missiles is getting harder due to the increasing use of mobile launchers and submarines, as well as solid fuel that doesn’t require fueling on site, he said. Also, North Korea is shooting missiles to a higher altitude, making them harder to shoot them down.

Japan plans to adopt Lockheed Martin Corp’s Aegis Ashore missile defence system to complement its Aegis ships. “If Japan can be properly protected as such, we should adopt such a system as soon as possible,” Onodera said. — Bloomberg