Japan plans to expand travel restrictions on resident North Koreans and increase scrutiny on remittances to the country as part of independent sanctions over Pyongyang’s recent launch of a long-range ballistic missile, sources said.
Japan prohibits top executives of the pro-Pyongyang General Association of Korean Residents in Japan (Chongryon) from re-entering Japan if they travel to North Korea.
The government is considering expanding the scope of senior Chongryon officials subject to the ban, the sources said.
It is also considering lowering the remittance to North Korea for which reports are required, which is currently more than 3 million yen ($33,600), the sources said.
The government will also set up a new headquarters comprising all Cabinet ministers in late January to resolve the issue of Japanese nationals abducted by North Korea.
Keiji Furuya, minister in charge of the abduction issue, said the new headquarters, chaired by new Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, will demonstrate to North Korea that an “all-Japan” team will deal with the issue.
The current abduction issue headquarters, created by the previous Democratic Party of Japan government, will be abolished. Only four Cabinet ministers--the prime minister, the chief Cabinet secretary, the foreign minister and the minister in charge of the abduction issue--served in the headquarters.
Furuya on Jan. 12 visited a beach in Hioki, Kagoshima Prefecture, where abductees Shuichi Ichikawa and Rumiko Masumoto went missing in 1978.
“I felt strongly again that we have to resolve the abduction issue under the Abe Cabinet,” he told reporters. “I will become the last minister in charge of the issue.”
Kenichi Ichikawa, Shuichi’s elder brother, accompanied Furuya.
“He came here less than a month after his appointment,” Ichikawa said. “I felt anew that the government is serious about resolving this issue.”
Abe has taken a hardline stance against North Korea, particularly on the abduction issue.
When five abductees returned to Japan in 2002, Abe, who was deputy chief Cabinet secretary under then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, decided not to return them to North Korea although other officials were opposed.
Abe expects stronger sanctions will serve as a diplomatic tool against Pyongyang.
“I will resolve (the abduction issue) under my Cabinet at any cost,” the new prime minister told family members of abductees on Dec. 28 soon after he took office. “There are more sanctions Japan can impose on its own.”
Abe called for Japan’s own sanctions immediately after North Korea launched the missile in December, which Japan views as violating U.N. resolutions banning it from conducting missile and nuclear-related tests.
Negotiations over international sanctions have run into difficulties at the U.N. Security Council, and Abe has decided that the Japanese government must demonstrate a tough stance on its own.
If international sanctions fail to materialize, Abe plans to introduce new measures independently.
However, it is unclear whether they will be effective because an outright ban is already in place on trade with North Korea. A senior Foreign Ministry official said there are no measures left that would have a strong economic impact.
An aide to Abe conceded that the measures under consideration are intended more as a symbolic “message” to North Korea that Japan will act decisively.
Abe plans to put pressure on North Korea on other fronts.
He has instructed education minister Hakubun Shimomura not to extend tuition exemptions to private high schools for North Korean residents.
Abe also plans to reinstate a policy to seek the handover of North Korean agents responsible for abductions in a document on the government response to the abduction issue.
His government plans to allocate 1.2 billion yen for the abduction issue in fiscal 2013, the same level as the budget for the current fiscal year.
The DPJ government failed to completely spend the budgeted amounts every year, and most of the money was returned to national coffers. Abe has decided against lowering the fiscal 2013 budget because it could send the wrong message to North Korea.
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