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October 12, 2006
Japan Imposes Sanctions, North Korea Threatens

Japan unilaterally imposed severe sanctions on North Korea in response to its nuclear test earlier this week, and the Kim regime responded by promising "strong countermeasures". Pyongyang warned Japan to keep its eyes open for the specifics, saying that North Korea does not issue empty threats:

The Japanese government decided on a package of additional economic sanctions against North Korea on Wednesday in response to the regime's claim of a nuclear test, including a ban on all imports from the country and the docking of North Korean ships in Japanese ports.

The sanctions are expected to go into effect after they are approved by Japan's Cabinet Friday.

"We will take strong countermeasures," Kyodo quoted Song Il Ho, North Korea's ambassador in charge of diplomatic normalization talks with Japan, as saying in an interview on Wednesday when asked about fresh sanctions by Japan.

"The specific contents will become clear if you keep watching. We never speak empty words," he added.

One response has been the cancellation of normalization talks, which seems moot anyway. The two nations had tried working through the open issues that kept them from having normal diplomatic relations, among them Japan's imperial occupation from 1910-1945 and North Korea's abduction of Japanese citizens in the 1970s and 1980s. The talks never went very far because of Kim's nuclear pursuit and his habit of testing his missiles by firing them at Japan.

The sanctions that Japan has imposed have teeth. North Korea can no longer dock its ships in Japanese ports, stripping them of a vital lifeline to hard currency. They normally export clams and mushrooms to the Japanese, who will look elsewhere for their cuisine needs now. North Koreans are barred from entering Japan except for a narrow set of circumstances. Essentially, Japan has closed its doors entirely to North Korea, which leaves the Kim regime with a big gap in its exports -- a problem for a country whose economy is already in free-fall.

How will Kim respond? He might force a naval confrontation with Japan, attempting to dock his ships in defiance of their orders, in the hope that Japan will start a war. A few more missiles might overfly Japan to the same purpose. I doubt that he would overtly attack Japan, an act that would push his only ally, China, even further away diplomatically. The stakes are going up for Kim Jong-Il, though, and one has to wonder what he thinks he's holding.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at October 12, 2006 5:37 AM

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