TOKYO—Japan on Tuesday froze some bank activity of a North Korean hospital that treats top officials and a state-run software company with extensive commercial contracts in Japan, joining Australia in tightening a financial noose around the Kim Jong Il regime.
In step with the United States, Japan and Australia imposed a series of financial sanctions on North Korea over its nuclear weapons development.
"This shows the resolve of the international community and Japan," said Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe, who's likely to win the job as Japan's new prime minister in a party vote Wednesday.
Japan's actions restricted overseas remittances and bank withdrawals of 15 North Korean commercial entities and one Swiss individual, expanding existing U.S. sanctions to include three new companies. Australia targeted 11 companies and the Swiss man.
Abe said the actions were aimed at North Korea's weapons programs and were designed to force the nation to return to six-nation talks on dismantling its nuclear programs, which deadlocked last year.
"North Korea has to come back to the negotiating table as soon as possible," Foreign Ministry spokesman Tomohiko Taniguchi said.
The sanctions also appeared intended to hurt the health care of North Korea's senior officials and to pinch hard-currency earnings from at least one successful company.
Among the enterprises hit by Japan and as yet unaffected by U.S. sanctions were the Korea Tonghae Shipping Co. and Pyongyang Informatics Centre. Japan also froze accounts of the Ponghwa Hospital, Pyongyang's best-equipped clinic. Ponghwa treats Kim's immediate family and senior officials and appears to have overseas financial activity.
By targeting the Pyongyang Informatics Centre, Japan sought to cut off the foreign earnings of one of North Korea's few viable enterprises with operations abroad.
"It's a fairly high-quality software firm. They've done quite a few contracts in Japan," said Peter Hayes, a North Korea expert and the executive director of the Nautilus Institute, a research center that focuses partly on the dangers of nuclear war.
The company was set up in the mid-1980s with help from the U.N. Development Program and ethnic Koreans living in Japan. Thought to have around 200 staff members, it's designed management software for the publishing, shipping, insurance and hotel industries. Among its past clients reportedly is Nissan, the Japanese automaker.
Hayes said he thought the overseas contracts earned the company only "a few million dollars a year." He asserted that targeting the company will have "zero" impact on getting North Korea back to nuclear talks.
"It will just force them (the company executives) into informal networks and illegitimate forms of commerce," Hayes said, possibly including online gambling and pornography.
The new sanctions follow North Korea's tests of seven ballistic missiles July 5. Shortly after the tests, Japan banned a North Korean ferry from entering its ports for six months and barred North Korean officials from entering the country.
Australia, which maintains diplomatic relations with North Korea, unlike Japan, said in a Foreign Ministry statement that its measure complements "previous actions taken by the United States and sends a strong message to North Korea."
One Japanese expert on the Korea Peninsula, Hajime Izumi, cast doubt on whether the sanctions will have much impact on Pyongyang without broader support.
"If we want to stop (nuclear activity) by North Korea, all countries in the world have to take similar measures, especially South Korea and China, to halt the flow of money," Izumi told Japanese television.
(McClatchy special correspondent Emi Doi in Tokyo contributed to this report.)
(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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