North Koreans "Could Make Their Country Richer" by Seeking Peace, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe Says

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe meets with U.S. President Donald Trump. The two vowed to work together to deter North Korea and pressure China to do the same. “North Korea does have diligent people and rich resources,” said Abe during a New Year’s speech. Getty Images

North Korean leaders could "make their country richer" if they dropped the country's nuclear program and missile tests, Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said during a New Year's speech.

"North Korea does have diligent people and rich resources. They could make their country richer, only if they adopted the right policies," Abe at a news conference on Thursday.

Abe said that Japan is watching North Korea closely to see how tight economic sanctions affect the isolated state. As Kim Jong Un's country faces winter, its people will likely lack coal, oil and fuel as a result of the diplomatic punishment. The targeted sanctions against North Korea's economy—which limited oil shipments to North Korea for any trade partner at 500,000 barrels in a single year—were pushed by the United Nations to curb Kim's nuclear ambitions and threats of attacking the United States.

Nations are bracing for additional responses from Kim as the sanctions threaten his country. Abe said Japan will continue to build up its military to protect the nation from any aggressive action from North Korea.

China, the main source of North Korea's fuel, exported no oil products to the country in November. The move aligned with the U.N. policy and appeared to cut North Korean officials off from gasoline, diesel, iron and lead. The new sanctions, along with others put in place in 2017, could put Kim's regime in a difficult position of funding vital resources in the totalitarian state alongside continued nuclear activity.

Related: Japan says North Korea poses biggest threat since World War II

Abe further compared the North Korean threat of missile test-launches to Japan's position during World War II, when Japan was beaten by the Allied Forces along with Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy following the U.S. decision to drop two nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

"It is not an exaggeration to say that the security environment surrounding Japan is at its severest since World War II," Abe said during the speech. "I will protect the people's lives and peaceful living in any situation." Some North Korean missile launches have flown over Japanese territory before, falling into the Pacific Ocean.

Abe reinforced the need for North Korea to seek peace with the international community.

"It is absolutely unacceptable that North Korea is trampling the strong desire of Japan and the rest of the international community for peaceful resolutions and continuing with its provocative behavior," Abe said.

In November, President Donald Trump and Abe said they would work together to deter North Korea and pressure China to do the same. Abe has supported Trump's aggressive North Korea stance and worked to build a stronger alliance with the U.S. president as Kim hurls threats about a potential attack on the United States.