The United States on Tuesday imposed sanctions against 13 Chinese and North Korean organisations Washington accused of helping evade nuclear restrictions against Pyongyang and supporting the country through trade.
The US Treasury announced the action, one day after President Donald Trump put North Korea back on a list of state sponsors of terrorism, on its website.
The new sanctions demonstrate the Trump administration’s focus on hurting trade between China and North Korea, which it has said is key to pressuring Pyongyang to back away from its ambition to develop a nuclear-tipped missile capable of hitting the United States.
“This designation will impose further sanctions and penalties on North Korea and related persons and supports our maximum pressure campaign to isolate the murderous regime,” said Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin.
The sanctions included blacklisting three Chinese companies, Dandong Kehua Economy & Trade Co., Dandong Xianghe Trading Co., and Dandong Hongda Trade Co., which the Treasury Department said have done more than $750 million in combined trade with North Korea.
The sanctions also blacklisted Sun Sidong and his company Dandong Dongyuan Industrial Co. In a June report, Washington think tank C4ADS said Sun Sidong’s firm was part of an interconnected network of Chinese companies that account for the vast proportion of trade with North Korea.
US authorities have repeatedly targeted companies and individuals from the Chinese city of Dandong, which borders North Korea, for alleged business ties to North Korea.
Anthony Ruggiero, a North Korea expert at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said China doesn’t strictly enforce financial rules in the Dandong area. As a result, Dandong draws companies interested in making a profit by selling to North Korea, he said.
The new sanctions also hit several North Korean companies that send workers to countries such as Russia, Poland, Cambodia and China. United States authorities said they are seeking to cut off the money North Korea makes from the export of labour.
Along with targeting sources of weapons technology, the sanctions marked the first time the United States sought to directly attack North Korea’s everyday consumer trade, said Peter Harrell, a sanctions expert at the Center for a New American Security.
“We are sanctioning companies involved in ordinary trade,” Harrell said. “That’s the logical next step of the pressure campaign.”
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the sanctions were part of an effort to further isolate Pyongyang and said she did not think that the targeting of more Chinese firms would lessen Beijing’s cooperation in resolving the North Korean issue.
“I don’t think it jeopardizes anything. I think the world has come together on this issue,” she said. “We have a good relationship with China. That’s not going to change.”