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Japan-DPRK Relations

The Government of Japan aims to normalize the relationship with North Korea in a manner that would contribute to the peace and stability of the Northeast Asian region, in close co-ordination with the United States of America and the Republic of Korea. Japan-North Korea relations have deteriorated in the post-Cold War era due to North Korea’s growing military threat to Japan, and most recently, North Korea’s admission that it had been systematically kidnapping Japanese citizens. Discussions on the situation in North Korea and the status of the Six-Party Talks continue to garner widespread press attention. Japan remains exceedingly uneasy about the DPRK, particularly in light of the most recent missile launches, nuclear test, and continued saber-rattling.

Issues in Japan-North Korea relations that produced tensions included North Korean media attacks on Japan, Japan's imposition of economic sanctions on North Korea for terrorist acts against South Korea in the 1980s, and unpaid North Korean debts to Japanese enterprises of about US$50 million. Japan allowed trade with North Korea through unofficial channels. This unofficial trade reportedly came to more than US$200 million annually in the 1980s.

The Korean Diaspora in Japan is a legacy of Japan’s colonization of Korea in the first half of the 20th century and has always been the largest group of foreign residents in an otherwise ethnically homogenous Japan. A major issue is the role that Koreans in Japan play in supporting North Korea. Although a very small segment of the population, Koreans affiliated with the organization known as Chosen Soren figured prominently in the triangular relationship between Japan, North Korea, and South Korea. During the Cold War, Chosen Soren activities in support of North Korea severely strained Japan-South Korea relations that were already plagued by lingering animosity from the colonial period. For many years, Chosen Soren was the conduit through which Japan and North Korea attempted to expand trade and eventually establish formal diplomatic ties.

Japanese vertical pinball machines, namely, pachinko machines, is a popular form of recreation in Japan. Along with Pachinko's popularity, "Pachinko dependence" has become topical news. Japan’s popular pachinko parlors were a culprit in propping up Kim Jung Il’s menacing regime. The pachinko industry is dominated by Koreans, and it is estimated that 30 percent of pachinko owners have ties to North Korea. In 1996 the pachinko industry grossed more than $275 billion a year, more than the worldwide sales of Japan’s auto industry at the time. Han Chang-woo, president of Maruhan Corporation, a leading pachinko company, said in a 1996 interview, “Everyone knows that some of the money has probably gone to North Korea’s effort to build nuclear weapons. Some pachinko owners linked to North Korea would like to cut those ties. But if they do, their relatives in North Korea will suffer."

Japan-North Korea relations remained antagonistic in the late 1980s. The two governments did not maintain diplomatic relations and had no substantive contacts. The opposition Japan Socialist Party, however, had cordial relations with the North Korean regime. In the early 1990s, Japan continued to conduct lengthy negotiations with North Korea aimed at establishing diplomatic relations with P'yongyang while maintaining its relations with Seoul. In January 1991, Japan began normalization talks with P'yongyang with a formal apology for its 1910-45 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula. The negotiations were aided by Tokyo's support of a proposal for simultaneous entry to the UN by North Korea and the Republic of Korea (South Korea); the issues of international inspection of North Korean nuclear facilities and the nature and amount of Japanese economic assistance, however, proved more difficult to negotiate.

In October 1994, the US and North Korea signed the "Agreed Framework". Based on this agreement, the US would take measures to supply light-water reactors and substitute energy, while North Korea would freeze graphite-moderated reactors and nuclear-related facilities that existed in Yongbyon and other locations and to eventually dismantle them. Moreover North Korea would remain a party to the NPT and fully comply with the IAEA safeguard agreement prior to the completion of light-water reactors. Based on this agreement, in 1995, the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KEDO) was established, charged with implementing the provision of two light-water reactors (1,000 MWe each) and heavy fuel oil (500,000 tons annually) as substitute energy. In the Japan-North Korea summit meeting held on September 17, 2002, and in the Japan-DPRK Pyongyang Declaration issued the same day, 'Both sides confirmed that, for an overall resolution of the nuclear issues on the Korean Peninsula, they would comply with all related international agreements.' And 'Both sides also confirmed the necessity of resolving security problems including nuclear and missile issues by promoting dialogues among countries concerned.'

On July 5, 2006, North Korea launched seven ballistic missiles. In response, the Government of Japan introduced nine measures against North Korea, including a ban on entry of the North Korean ferry Mangyongbong-92 into Japanese ports, and strongly condemned the North Korean acts while outlining such measures. Moreover, despite repeated warnings from the international community, North Korea announced on October 9, 2006, that it had carried out a nuclear weapons test. The Gov6 Abductions of Japanese Citizens by North Korea ernment of Japan strongly protested and emphatically condemned the test, and on October 11, introduced a set of four additional measures, including a ban on the entry of all North Korean vessels into Japanese ports and a ban on all imports from North Korea. The Government of Japan introduced these measures against North Korea comprehensively taking into account various factors under the international situation surrounding Japan.

On April 5, 2009, North Korea launched missiles despite calls by Japan and other nations concerned to abandon the plan. In response, the Government of Japan decided, on April 10, to institute a ban on the entry of all North Korean vessels into Japanese ports and to continue the ban on the import of all items from North Korea. The government also decided to lower the minimum concerning the carry-on export of currency or checks destined for North Korea that required notification from over one million yen to over 300,000 yen, and to lower the minimum concerning money transfer including payment to natural persons with addresses in North Korea that required reporting from over 30 million yen to over 10 million yen.

Moreover, North Korea carried out a nuclear weapons test on May 25, 2009. The Government of Japan, in response, banned the export of all items to North Korea and decided on June 16 to deny the “landing of convicted foreign sailors violating the trade and financial measures against North Korea” and the “reentry into Japan of foreign residents living in Japan who have been sentenced for such violations and who intend to go to North Korea”. The Government of Japan introduced these measures against North Korea, comprehensively taking into account a variety of factors under the international situation surrounding Japan. On July 4, 2009, North Korea launched multiple ballistic missiles in violation of relevant UN Security Council Resolutions.

On May 28, 2010, the Government of Japan, in response to a torpedo attack launched by North Korea on a naval vessel of the Republic of Korea in March of the same year, decided to further lower the thresholds of the amount of money above which notification and reporting is required to 100,000 yen and 3,000,000 yen respectively with regard to the monetary measures enacted in April 2009 (see 2(10)(a)). At the same time, Japan also decided to ensure further collaboration among its ministries and agencies to work on preventing indirect trade with North Korea by way of third countries and to take a tougher response.

Since Japan is confronted with the abduction issue in addition to the nuclear and missile development issues, concern remains within the Japanese government about the U.S. making concessions. During the 1970’s and the 1980’s, many Japanese citizens disappeared under strange circumstances. The investigations by the Japanese authorities and testimonies by defected North Korean agents revealed that, with a strong possibility, these cases involved abductions conducted by North Korea. Therefore, the Government of Japan has brought up the abduction issue at every opportunity.

At the Japan-North Korea summit meeting on September 17, 2002, Chairman Kim Jong-Il admitted abduction and offered his apologies, expressing his regret. He stated that he had already punished the concerned people and he would ensure that no such incidents occur again in the future. At the official-level meeting immediately before the summit meeting information was disclosed related to the incidents of suspected abductions.

On the same day, the spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of North Korea released, in tandem with the announcement of notification of the Red Cross, a statement of the following effect. Namely, (i) North Korea was addressing the issue seriously; (ii) it was regrettable that such issue occurred in a period of abnormal Japan-North Korea relationship; (iii) such incidents would be prevented in the future; and (iv) North Korea would facilitate meetings with families and relatives of surviving abductees or Japanese government officials, if necessary, and that North Korea was prepared to take measures to enable their temporary or permanent return to Japan, if they wish to. On October 8, 2002, the investigation authority concluded that of the suspected abduction cases, fifteen people were abducted in ten cases.

The Government of Japan had been investigating other cases where the possibility of abduction cannot be dismissed. This includes those cases referred to as missing Japanese probably related to North Korea. As a result of these investigations, the government discovered cases of suspected abductions of non-Japanese citizens (Korean residents in Japan) and abductions conducted overseas. The Government of Japan identified 17 Japanese citizens as victims of abduction by North Korea, of whom five returned to Japan on October 15, 2002, for the first time in 24 years. As for the others whose whereabouts are unknown, despite North Korea’s clear commitment to immediately conducting a thorough investigation to obtain a full account of what happened, North Korea has yet to provide an acceptable explanation. The abduction is an important issue concerning the sovereignty of Japan and the lives and safety of Japanese citizens.

Japan agreed 03 July 2014 to lift some sanctions against North Korea, as the two countries continue talks on Japanese citizens kidnapped by Pyongyang. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the move represents the start of a "comprehensive resolution" to the abduction issue. He provided no details on what sanctions would be lifted or when. "Under the principle of action being repaid by action, I want to lift part of the sanctions Japan has imposed. However, this is just a start," said Abe. Tokyo's sanctions against North Korea are separate from the international sanctions regime imposed as a result of United Nations Security Council resolutions.

Human rights groups estimate that as many of 470 Japanese citizens may have been abducted by the DPRK, far less than the National Police Agency's number of as many as 860 people. In 2002 the DPRK admitting to having abducted 13 Japanese nationals in the 1970s and 1980s, and claimed the matter had been settled with Japan, with five of the abductees being repatriated and the remaining eight being declared dead.

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