Thursday, January 17, 2013

Some Smoke and Mirrors around the “Sanctions” against North Korea

“We have cards, so we will not hesitate to play them if that is effective in solving [the abduction issue. We will elicit dialog through pressure.”
Keiji Furuya, Minister in charge of the Abduction Issue (among other things)*
Yomiuri, Jan. 17, 2013

According to the Yomiuri report, Mr. Furuya wants to 1) expand the scope of Chongryon* executives who will not be allowed to reenter Japan if they travel to North Korea, and 2) lower the level of money that they can remit to North Korea without reporting said fact to the authorities. The Ministries of Justice and Finance are responsible for 1) and 2) respectively. Given Prime Minister Abe’s own proclivities, Mssrs. Tanigaki and Aso will surely comply with their colleague’s wishes. But to what effect?

What’s striking is how little leverage the Japanese government has after ratcheting up its pressure against North Korea. More Chongryon executives may be inconvenienced, but they can use the telephone or hold teleconferences. Besides, who’s to say that they wouldn’t prefer to forego the privilege of genuflecting before the Kim dynasty, saving money in the bargain?

The current reporting threshold for a remit to North Korea is 3 million yen. It is a slight inconvenience and (maybe) embarrassment, but the remitter’s name is not going to be made public; indeed, MOF does not even disclose the aggregated data. Hardly the stuff of sanctions. In fact, all government references to reporting measures (which also include a 100,000 yen carry-on cash threshold for travelers to North Korea. a measure that the Yomiuri report does not mention), both specifically and as part of broader measures against North Korea say just that, “measures,” not “sanctions.” The word “sanction” is reserved for measures aimed specifically at North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

For therein lies the rub. Paul Stookey aside, the rest of the world does not really care about the abductees, at least not when the South Korean government is not letting hundreds of its own abductees get in the way of managing its relations with its intransigent North Korean counterpart. Thus, the Japanese government has been unable to convince the UN Security Council to include the abduction issue in the scope of its resolutions that authorize sanctions against North Korea (and is forced to read between the lines to convince itself that the abduction issue in the agreements around the Six Party Talks). The UNSC (and therefore China and Russia) and the rule of law are the reasons why the Japanese government is fast closing in on the end of its wits. A little bark, very little bite.

The current Japanese policy on the abduction issue has been based on the illusion that Japanese coercion has some effect on North Korea. In fact, it was the prospects of normalization of relations and the multi-trillion yen bonanza that induced Kim Jong Il to confess to the abductions and, later, Koizumi’s billions that ransomed the families of the returned abductees.

Sadly, I have no thoughts on how to bribe North Korea at this point. They’ve been once burned,it’s no wonder that they’re twice shy. Besides, Kim Jong Un knows that to reveal anything more about the fate and possible whereabouts of the remaining abductees after all this, given his own ongoing succession, would be political suicide.

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