Why Japan eased sanctions against North Korea

japan-abe-koreaHoping that carrots rather than sticks do the trick, Japan has rewarded North Korea for its decision to reinvestigate the decades-old kidnappings of Japanese nationals by easing a slew of unilateral sanctions imposed against the increasingly isolated country.

This decision to ease sanctions was made after a constructive round of talks regarding Japanese citizens kidnapped by the North Korean regime during the Cold War. According to reports, Pyongyang may have abducted over hundred Japanese nationals during the 1970s-1980s, of which the Japanese government recognises only 17. In 2002, North Korea admitted to abducting 13 Japanese nationals, five of whom were returned to Japan. North Korea claims that the remaining abductees had died. Japan, however, remained unconvinced.

In a meeting on July 3 in Beijing, senior-level officials from the two countries met to discuss the progress on the investigation of abductees. A breakthrough was reached when Pyongyang handed a list of 10 Japanese nationals currently living in North Korea, some of whom were possibly kidnapped. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has made this issue a priory in relations with North Korea, was satisfied with North Korea’s panel that is to manage the probe. The panel will be constituted of the regime’s most powerful functionaries and institutions.

Tkorea-northhe eased sanctions include lifting the  Japanese oversight in remittance sent by North Korean workers back home, easing travel bans, and allowing port calls by North Korean ships for humanitarian purposes. These sanctions were unilaterally placed by Japan and do not alter the status of sanctions placed by the UN Security Council which are meant to check North Korea’s nuclear programme.

Mr. Abe hopes that this would be a start to warmer ties between the Tokyo and Pyongyang. Given the recent strain in its relations with China, North Korea, too, seems keen to move beyond its excessive dependence on China, say some experts.

China’s President Xi Jinping, who is on a visit to South Korea since July 3, has reassured Seoul that China is fiercely opposed to the development of nuclear weapons in the Korean peninsula. He has also played up ties between Korea and China as historic allies, especially in its fight against Japanese aggression. Some experts believe that China is looking to improve ties with South Korea in a bid to make most of the rift between the US’ most important allies in the region, Japan and South Korea.


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