It has become clear that Japan must take a leading role in discussions at the U.N. Security Council to ensure a new resolution against North Korea for conducting a nuclear test Monday produces results.
At an emergency meeting Monday, the Japanese Security Council agreed to start work on a new resolution after declaring the latest test a "clear violation" of Resolution 1718, passed in the wake of North Korea's first nuclear test in October 2006.
Tokyo plans to prepare a draft resolution calling for sanctions against Pyongyang to be beefed up.
Resolution 1718 obliges all U.N. member states to ban the export to North Korea of arms and materials related to weapons of mass destruction as well as luxury goods. It also requires them to freeze assets held by North Korean companies linked to weapons of mass destruction and requests them to inspect the cargo of vessels traveling to and from North Korea.
Pivotal points in discussing a new resolution are whether the Security Council will be able to expand the scope of the assets to be frozen and the list of luxury goods banned for export, and make ship inspections an obligation rather than a request.
Work to select North Korean organizations whose assets are to be frozen was suspended after Pyongyang returned to six-party talks on its nuclear program in 2007, but it was resumed after the North launched a ballistic missile last month.
The number of such organizations currently stands at only three, reflecting the positions of China and Russia, both of which are cautious about imposing sanctions on North Korea.
The same mistake should not be made in responding to the latest nuclear test. It is important to ensure a new resolution has teeth.
Even if a new resolution is passed, chances are high that North Korea will openly defy it by ramping up its nuclear program and test-firing more missiles.
Unless the United States and China are serious about forestalling North Korea's nuclear ambitions, it will prove extremely difficult to make Pyongyang abandon its nuclear development program. This is significant in that the United States has the means of imposing financial sanctions on North Korea, while China is the biggest provider of energy and other aid to North Korea.
Japan is directly threatened by North Korea's possible development of missiles with nuclear warheads. It is therefore essential for Tokyo to insist Washington and Beijing apply pressure on Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear program.
China has said it is reluctant to strengthen sanctions against North Korea because doing so would make the early resumption of the six-party talks, which it chairs, less likely. Russia, which currently chairs the Security Council, has acted in tandem with China.
The truth of the matter is North Korea hitherto used the six-party talks to play for time in its efforts to develop nuclear weapons.
Attempting to gain something in return through a mere agreement to resume six-party talks has been an old ploy adopted by North Korea. Attaching importance to dialogue with North Korea even now will only allow the country to take mean advantage of the situation.
The international community must use the yet-to-be-agreed resolution as the essential vehicle for pressuring North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program.