Japan reportedly took steps yesterday to punish North Korea for its apparent nuclear test, moving to impose a total ban on imports from the impoverished nation and prohibit its ships from entering Japanese ports.
The sanctions, which also expand restrictions on North Korean nationals entering Japan, were to be announced following an emergency security meeting headed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe late yesterday, according to public broadcaster NHK.
Cabinet Office spokesman Hiroshi Suzuki confirmed a security meeting was scheduled, but refused to discuss its agenda. He said sanctions, if approved, could take effect immediately.
Tokyo has already halted food aid and imposed limited financial sanctions against North Korea after it test-fired seven missiles into waters between Japan and the Korean peninsula in July.
But a total ban on imports and ships would be a serious blow for North Korea, whose produce like clams and mushrooms earns precious foreign currency on the Japanese market. Ferries also serve as a major conduit of communication between the two countries, which have no diplomatic relations.
Earlier yesterday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuhisa Shiozaki urged the North to return immediately and unconditionally to the six-party nuclear talks, and honor promises to freeze its missile program and strengthen regional peace under a 2002 bilateral pact.
The North has boycotted the six-way talks on its nuclear program, which also involve the US, China, South Korea and Russia, due to anger over separate financial sanctions imposed by Washington.
"It's vital that North Korea return to negotiations," Shiozaki said. "I urge North Korea to ... put our agreements in place one by one."
Shiozaki was also skeptical about reports in local media that the North may have detonated a second nuclear device yesterday morning. Both Shiozaki and Abe said they had not seen any data to confirm the reports.
Meanwhile, Japanese military aircraft continued to monitor for radioactivity in the atmosphere, but reported no abnormal readings. Officials have said any fallout from Monday's blast, believed to have been equivalent to hundreds of tonnes of TNT, could hit Japan this week.