Thu, 29 May 2003

Deal harshly with suspicious ship

The Daily Yomiuri Asia News Network Tokyo

The North Korean cargo and passenger ship Man Gyong Bong 92 is scheduled to call at a port in Niigata Prefecture in early June, the vessel's first voyage to Japan since January.

The ship's activities are deeply suspicious and Japan as a sovereign state must not sit idly by, but should instead pursue new ways to deal with the vessel.

Investigations by public security authorities have raised a variety of doubts and suspicions about the ship.

The vessel has been used to illegally remit cash from Japan to North Korea and to pass instructions from Pyongyang to North Korean intelligence agents in Japan to recruit South Korean military personnel as spies.

There also are suspicions the ship has been used to transport machinery from Japan that can be converted for use in North Korea's missile development program, and even that it has been used to illegally export missile components to North Korea.

Recently a North Korean defector who worked as an engineer in North Korea's missile program testified before a U.S. Senate panel, saying that about 90 percent of the components in North Korea's missiles were manufactured in Japan and transported there by the ship.

Local governments, including the Niigata prefectural government, have begun calling on the central government to conduct stricter inspections of the cargo and to restrict the vessel from entering ports in their areas.

As long as suspicions remain, the central government is obliged to investigate and take appropriate action when illegal acts are discovered.

The government has worked out a policy to strengthen inspections aboard the ship by the Japan Coast Guard and inspections of cargo by customs personnel when the ship enters port. Taking such action is reasonable, the issue is whether it is sufficient. For example, coast guard officers are authorized to board and inspect the ship if necessary, but under the current laws it is difficult for them to inspect every part of the ship.

The first step is to determine what can be done under the existing laws.

During a recent meeting of ministers concerned, there were conflicting opinions over the issue. As long as the Cabinet members remain divided in their approach to the current situation, it will be difficult to respond effectively. These divisions are the reason the government's responses appear to be too little and too late.

If the initial response was not adequate, then alternative measures should be worked out.

Some within the Liberal Democratic Party are making the case for drafting new legislation to restrict vessels considered a possible threat to the nation's safety from entering Japanese ports. The government needs to treat these suggestions favorably and seriously consider the idea.

The Man Gyong Bong 92 reportedly is scheduled to call at ports in Japan 10 times by September. The upcoming call will not be the last. The government should come up with a permanent solution to replace its stopgap measures.

At the recent Japan-U.S. summit talks, the leaders of both countries agreed to deal with North Korea by pursuing dialogue and exerting pressure.

It would be a significant move for Japan to exert pressure by clearly demonstrating it will deal harshly with illegal and suspicious acts by North Korea.