Japan Backs U.S. Proposal to Target North Korea's Oil Supplies

Updated on
  • Defense minister says Japan faces biggest threat since WWII
  • North Korea making it harder for Japan to stop missiles

How U.S.-North Korea Tension Could Lead to War

Japan backed a U.S. push for the United Nations Security Council to vote Monday on fresh sanctions against North Korea, saying that Kim Jong Un’s nuclear program poses the most serious threat since World War II.

Itsunori Onodera

Photographer: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg

Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera on Sunday urged tougher sanctions including curbing oil supplies to North Korea. He warned that the regime’s advances in missile technology are complicating Japan’s ability to intercept them. 

“Japan’s security environment including North Korea is increasingly grave -- perhaps it’s the most serious state in the post-war period,” Onodera told public broadcaster NHK. “If North Korea-bound oil, mainly coming from China, decreases through pressure by the international community, it will be difficult for North Korea to operate its missile brigades.”

President Donald Trump’s administration is pushing the Security Council to adopt a united stance as Kim gets closer to being able to strike the U.S. with a nuclear weapon. China and Russia, which can veto any UN measures, have expressed skepticism that tough sanctions will stop North Korea’s nuclear push and have pushed for peace talks.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel told German media outlet Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung that she would “say yes immediately” if asked to participate in a diplomatic initiative to end North Korea’s nuclear program. Germany took part alongside five UN veto powers in negotiations to restrain Iran’s nuclear program.

The U.S. has warned that time is running out to act. North Korea detonated its sixth and most powerful nuclear bomb last Sunday, which it said was a hydrogen device. South Korea has detected moves that indicate it may soon launch another intercontinental ballistic missile.

Kim’s Banquet

Kim, who has said he won’t negotiate unless the U.S. drops its “hostile policies,” threw a banquet for nuclear scientists and technicians to celebrate the hydrogen bomb test, the official Korean Central News Agency reported Sunday.

North Korean state-run newspaper Rodong Sinmun said in an editorial on Saturday that Pyongyang was now a nuclear power and praised Kim for strengthening “defenses to protect the Korean peninsula from invasion.” KCNA said in a commentary also on Saturday that the U.S. was resorting to sanctions and pressure rather than seeking talks.

Tout to North Korea Graphic

The U.S. has circulated a draft resolution that would, aside from barring crude oil shipments to North Korea, ban the nation’s exports of textiles and prohibit employment of its guest workers by other countries, according to a diplomat at the world body. The proposal, which also calls for freezing Kim’s assets, has been sent to the 15 members of the Security Council, the diplomat said.

The U.S. is willing to risk a veto of its proposal rather than see it watered down, according to a Security Council diplomat who asked not to be identified while negotiations are ongoing.

Read more: The options for dealing with North Korea

A halt to oil exports is far from certain. While China and Russia have condemned Kim’s actions, they have said the ultimate goal needs to be to coax him to the negotiating table and avoid a war.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said more sanctions wouldn’t work, while China is wary about cutting off Kim’s economic lifeline to the point it risks collapsing his regime. China is North Korea’s main ally and by far its biggest trading partner, including for oil shipments. Observers have said Beijing might agree to just a partial, or temporary, oil exports ban.

China will support further UN action if it helps restart dialogue with North Korea, Foreign Minister Wang Yi said on Thursday.

Nikki Haley speaks during a UN Security Council emergency meeting on Sept. 4.

Photographer: Kena Betancur/AFP via Getty Images

On Thursday, Trump said it wasn’t inevitable that the U.S. would end up in a war with North Korea, but that military action remained an option.

“I would prefer not going the route of the military, but it is something certainly that could happen,” Trump said in a press conference at the White House.

He declined to say if he’d accept a nuclear-armed North Korea that can be successfully deterred from using such weapons. A senior administration official later told reporters the U.S. won’t let North Korea extort or threaten the world with its nuclear program, and that the administration isn’t sure the country could be deterred.

The official said the danger of war is rising, and the U.S. is also concerned about North Korea exporting its nuclear technology to other nations or to terrorist groups.

Onodera on Sunday called on Japanese lawmakers to agree to the government’s request for a record defense budget next fiscal year. Tracking North Korean missiles is getting harder due to the increasing use of mobile launchers and submarines, as well as solid fuel that doesn’t require fueling on site, he said. Also, North Korea is shooting missiles to a higher altitude, making them harder to shoot them down.

Japan plans to adopt Lockheed Martin Corp.’s Aegis Ashore missile defense system to complement its Aegis ships. “If Japan can be properly protected as such, we should adopt such a system as soon as possible,” Onodera said.

— With assistance by Kanga Kong, Kambiz Foroohar, Nick Wadhams, Kim Chipman, Ben Livesey, Keiko Ujikane, Jennifer Epstein, Sohee Kim, Margaret Talev, David Tweed, and Helen Sun

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