Japan sanctions Chinese firms to pressure North Korea

Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida arrives at the Prime Minister's official residence to attend a cabinet ministers' meeting.
Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida arrives at the Prime Minister's official residence to attend a cabinet ministers' meeting. PHOTO: EPA

TOKYO (AFP) – Japan on Friday (July 28) slapped sanctions on two Chinese firms, including a bank accused of laundering North Korean cash, amid concerns Pyongyang is prepping for another missile test, the government said.

Japan has stepped up calls for further sanctions against North Korea since Pyongyang tested an intercontinental ballistic missile earlier this month in defiance of repeated UN resolutions.

The test has raised tensions in the region, pitting Washington, Tokyo and Seoul against China, Pyongyang’s last remaining major ally.

Japan’s move has added further acrimony to often fraught bilateral relations with China and drew a harsh response from Beijing.

Despite being major trading and investment partners they are frequently at odds over a maritime territorial dispute and lingering tensions over Japan’s history of aggression in the first half of the 20th century.

Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said five entities, including two Chinese organisations, and nine individuals will be put on Japan’s blacklists in connection with ties to North Korea.

They will be “newly subject to asset freezing” and other unilateral punishment, Kishida said without elaborating or naming any of them.

“It is important to strengthen pressure so that North Korea should act toward denuclearisation,” Kishida told reporters.

“We will urge North Korea to take concrete action toward the resolution of issues,” he said.

The Nikkei daily said among the five organisations are China’s Bank of Dandong, a Chinese shipping firm and a North Korean trading house dealing with coal and other commodities The Bank of Dandong is accused of money laundering for North Korea’s nuclear and missile programmes.

China immediately denounced the Japanese sanctions.

“We firmly oppose any other country to impose unilateral sanctions outside the framework of the UN Security Council and we especially oppose the sanctions targeted at Chinese enterprises and individuals,” Lu Kang, spokesman for the Chinese foreign ministry, told a regular press briefing in Beijing.

“I would like to tell Japan that China will not accept the wrongdoing and will require Japan to withdraw this wrong decision,” he said, warning the sanctions will “create major political hurdles for China-Japan relations”.

The United States imposed similar sanctions on the same bank as President Donald Trump said Beijing’s efforts to put the brakes on Pyongyang’s nuclear drive had failed.

China, which borders North Korea and is considered its only major ally, argues that negotiations are the best way to persuade Pyongyang to halt its nuclear and missile activities.

The Pentagon has picked up signs that North Korea is preparing for another missile test, a US defence official said earlier this week.

The official said the test would be of an intermediate-range missile or North Korea’s ICBM – known as a KN-20 or a Hwasong-14.

It would be the second time Pyongyang has tested an ICBM, after the July 4 rocket launch that prompted global alarm.