Japanese companies are likely to face greater scrutiny on certain international sales of IT equipment following North Korea’s firing of seven missiles into the Sea of Japan early Wednesday.
Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) is working hard to check suspicious trading between Japanese companies and those with suspected links to North Korea, said a Japanese government spokesman, speaking on customary condition of anonymity.
Sales of both electronic and mechanical high-tech equipment to North Korea are regulated, but evidence has suggested that much of the technology North Korea relies on for its military program comes from Japan.
In 2003, a North Korean defector who claimed to have worked in the country’s missile program told a U.S. Senate hearing that Japan was a major source for technology used in the missiles.
“I worked for nine years as an expert in the guidance system for the North Korean missile industry, and I can tell you definitely that over 90 percent of these parts come from Japan,” the defector said at the hearing.
This week’s missile firing, which had been anticipated for some weeks, brought a quick response from Japan. It began by banning visits by a North Korean trading boat called the Mangyongbong-92.
The ship regularly sails between the two countries and is suspected to have been used to carry components from Japan that can be used to build missiles. In Tokyo’s Akihabara electronics district, parts such as processors, radio receivers and GPS components, the sale of which are regulated to certain countries, can be bought openly.
“The Japanese government is aware of the possibility that the ferry ship can be used for such purposes,” Tomohiko Taniguchi, deputy press secretary at Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said at a news conference Friday. Japanese customs officers have been trying harder in the past few years to keep track of what’s being carried on the ship, he said.
Akihabara is packed with companies selling a wide range of electronics products and components, much of it difficult to find off the shelf anywhere else in the world. The retailers’ preference for cash sales and the wide array of components available make it a perfect place to pick up hard-to-find parts without raising suspicion.
It’s not just North Korea that is suspected of using Akihabara to its advantage. Agents for al-Qaida are also thought to have acquired components in the district in the past, the government spokesman said.
Kim Myong Chol, executive director of the Japan-based Center for Korean-American Peace, who calls himself North Korea’s unofficial spokesman in Japan, denied that any Japanese technology is used in his country’s missiles.
“Why would we depend on Japan for technology?,” he said at a news conference Friday at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan. “Technology has no boundaries, no international borders. It can be acquired by the Internet, by books. [Our missile program is] entirely independent of Japanese technology. If any country uses Japanese technology, it’s the U.S.A. We never use Japanese technology; we use our own.”
-Martyn Williams, IDG News Service (Tokyo Bureau)
Check out our CIO News Alerts and Tech Informer pages for more updated news coverage.