In 2014, the Abe administration took a calculated risk by concluding the so-called Stockholm agreement with North Korea on the abduction issue (an official Ministry of Foreign Affairs history can be found here in .pdf). In return for the DPRK creating an investigative body, Japan lifted some of its unilateral sanctions on the country; these included travel curbs to and from North Korea, limits on the amount of money that could be remitted without notification and port calls by North Korean ships for humanitarian purposes. The material effects of these concessions were likely small. Japan retained its overall ban on trade imposed following the 2009 missile and nuclear tests as well as all multilateral commitments under all UN Security Council resolutions. Moreover, even these modest concessions were reversed in part in 2015 as it became apparent that North Korea believed it could cash in by simply establishing an investigative body.
With the missile and nuclear tests earlier this year, the Abe policy returned to square one with the imposition of new sanctions on February 10; the statement is reproduced in full below (from the well-maintained MOFA North Korea page). Predictably, North Korea countered by disbanding the (non-functional) investigative committee.
Given that direct Japan-North Korea trade fell to almost zero by 2010, it is hard to assess the impact that any additional measures will have. Two-way travel is now effectively banned, with a measure that appears to be aimed at Chongryon officials in particular (barring their re-entry if they leave the country with the purpose of going to North Korea). Shipping is similarly halted with new asset freezes also designated. Yet the challenge has always been controlling transactions through third countries. Japan wasted no time in sending a signal in that regard as well, arresting a Korean-surnamed trader for a $50,000 deal through Singapore and initiating investigations of Chongryon activities.
The right way to think about the cost North Korea is paying with respect to Japan is not simply to look at foregone trade, but to calculate a counterfactual of what bilateral trade would be between two similarly-sized and located countries. Marc Noland undertook this exercise two years ago, and found that in a “natural trade” scenario Japan and North Korea would share $2.8 billion in annual trade.
2016 Measures taken by the Government of Japan against North Korea
Japan has repeatedly and strongly urged North Korea to fully comply with the relevant UN Security Council resolutions (UNSCRs) and refrain from any provocations including nuclear tests or ballistic missile launches. The abductions issue, the most important issue for the Abe Administration, still remains unresolved despite calls for the return of all abductees at the earliest possible date.
It was against this backdrop that North Korea went ahead with its fourth nuclear test and the ballistic missile launch. These acts constitute direct and grave threats to Japan’s security and are totally unacceptable as they seriously undermine the peace and security of Northeast Asia as well as the international community.
Following these developments, the Government of Japan has seriously looked into what concrete measures should be taken from the viewpoint of taking the most effective approach toward the comprehensive resolution of outstanding issues of concern, such as the abductions, nuclear, and missile issues.
The Government of Japan has now decided to take the following measures of its own against North Korea.
First, the Government of Japan implements restrictions on movement of persons. The details are as follows:
- Ban on the entry of North Korean citizens
- Ban on the re-entry of North Korean authority officials residing in Japan with an aim to go to North Korea; ban on the re-entry of those who are in the position to assist the above-mentioned North Korean authority officials residing in Japan with an aim to go to North Korea (expand the targets than before)
- Request to all residents not to visit North Korea
- Suspension of Japanese government officials’ visit to North Korea
- Ban on the landing of North Korean flag vessels’ crew members
- Ban on the landing of foreign crew members, sentenced for the violation of the trade and financial measures against North Korea; ban on the re-entry of those foreign citizens residing in Japan, sentenced for the violation of the above-mentioned measures, with an aim to go to North Korea
- Ban on the re-entry of foreign experts on nuclear and missile technology residing in Japan with an aim to go to North Korea
Second, the Government of Japan reduces the lowest amount that requires notification from equivalent to 1 million yen to 100,000 yen concerning the carrying of currency etc. to North Korea and bans the payment to North Korea except for the case in which the amount is less than 100,000 yen with humanitarian purposes.
Third, the Government of Japan bans the entry of all North Korean flag vessels including those for humanitarian purposes and bans the entry of third-country flag vessels which have previously called at ports in North Korea.
Fourth, the Government of Japan adds to entities and individuals designated for asset-freezing measures.
In sum, under the consistent policy of “dialogue and pressure” and “action for action,” Japan strongly urges North Korea to take positive responses toward the comprehensive resolution of outstanding issues of concern, such as the abductions, nuclear, and missile issues. Japan intends to maintain dialogue for resolving the abductions issue, its most important issue, and to make its utmost efforts to realize the return of all abductees at the earliest possible date based on the agreement between Japan and North Korea reached at Stockholm in May, 2014.