On 4 July, Japan announced it would lift certain unilateral sanctions against North Korea following an agreement that North Korea would reopen its investigation into the kidnapping and abduction of Japanese nationals in the 1970s and 1980s. North Korea has admitted that the kidnappings were part of a wider programme during the Cold War to train North Korean spies in Japanese language and customs.

Japan’s announcement follows confirmation that concrete measures are being taken by North Korean authorities towards establishing the fate of the Japanese nationals.  Shinzo Abe, Japan’s prime minister, stated: "We have determined that an unprecedented framework has been established, where an organisation that can make decisions at a national level...will be at the forefront of the investigations."  The state-run Korean Central News Agency reported on 4 July that a “Special Investigative Committee” of approximately 30 officials had been established to investigate the cases of “all Japanese” residing in North Korea.

The sanctions lifted by Japan include the easing of the embargo on the entry of North Korean- flagged ships into Japanese ports, which can now enter for “humanitarian purposes”. In addition, travel restrictions between the two nations will be removed and the reporting threshold for money transfers from Japan to North Korea has been increased.

Trade between Japan and North Korea has been suspended since Japan blocked imports from and exports to North Korea in 2006 and 2009, respectively, in response to the state’s nuclear proliferation programme.

Japanese officials stressed, however, that the sanctions to be lifted are distinct from the multilateral sanctions imposed by the UN, which followed Pyongyang’s first nuclear test in 2006.  The sanctions prohibit UN member states from trading arms with North Korea, and from engaging in financial transactions that facilitate such trade.

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