SEOUL — South Korea and Japan both imposed another round of direct sanctions Friday on North Korea, seeking to further ratchet up the pressure on Pyongyang after the United Nations passed new restrictions earlier this week.
But the measures were largely symbolic, analysts said, and are unlikely to convince North Korea that the costs of pursuing nuclear weapons outweigh the benefits.
“We anticipate that these measures will have the effect of cutting off sources of [North Korea’s] funding for its weapons of mass destruction program,” Lee Suk-joon, South Korea’s minister for government policy coordination, told reporters Friday.
The measures included adding 36 people — two of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s closest aides, Hwang Pyong So and Choe Ryong Hae — to the list of those banned from conducting financial transactions in South Korea.
An additional 34 North Korean companies accused of selling coal and supplying North Korean workers to foreign factories and sites were blacklisted, as was Dandong Hongxiang Industrial Development, a Chinese company that has already been sanctioned by the United States and China for helping finance Pyongyang’s weapons program.
“These sanctions are largely symbolic,” said Kim Kwang-jin, who worked as a North Korean bank representative in Singapore until he defected in 2003. “But they are still important because they add more heat to the increasing boiling sanctions on North Korea. Sometimes even symbolic actions are needed.”
Simultaneously, Tokyo expanded its blacklist of people affiliated with the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan, a pro-North Korean group also known as Chongryon or Chosen Soren. A total of 58 people will now be banned from reentering Japan after visiting North Korea.
The Japanese government also blacklisted more North Koreans and banned Japanese ships that have stopped at North Korean ports from entering Japan, although it is not clear that any such ships have been to North Korean in recent years.
“This year, North Korea went ahead with two nuclear tests and launched more than 20 ballistic missiles,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told his cabinet Friday, introducing the sanctions. “This presents a new level of threat, and such outrageous acts are absolutely unacceptable.”
Like the South Korean measures, Japan’s sanctions were unlikely to have much tangible impact, but they, too, served a psychological purpose, said Toshimitsu Shigemura of Waseda University.
"These sanctions are to show North Korea as a threat that there are more things Japan could do as sanctions and Japan would impose more if necessary," he said. “And they are to put pressure on China, as it has been reluctant to cooperate.”
In the latest multilateral effort to punish North Korea for its defiance of bans on nuclear and missile testing, the U.N. Security Council imposed a cap Wednesday on North Korea’s exports of coal, a major source of hard currency for the regime in Pyongyang.
This tightens the sanctions imposed in March after North Korea’s fourth nuclear test. Those measures included an exemption for coal exports that were for “livelihood” purposes, but American and South Korean officials privately complained that Beijing was allowing coal to flow almost unfettered out of North Korea.
Recent Chinese customs data show that coal exports from North Korea have returned to normal levels after a brief dip following the March sanctions.
Coal comprises about 40 percent of North Korea’s exports, bringing in about $1 billion a year.
But Pyongyang has remained defiant. A Foreign Ministry spokesman said after the United Nations acted this week that the latest sanctions would only “escalate tensions” with the United States, which North Korea branded the “chief culprit” behind the resolution.
“Obama and his lackeys are sadly mistaken if they calculate that they can force the DPRK to abandon its line of nuclear weaponization and undermine its status as a nuclear power through base sanctions to pressurize it,” the spokesman said, using the official abbreviation for North Korea.
Yuki Oda in Tokyo contributed to this report.