After allegedly pressuring the Chinese government to act first and adopt sanctions against nearly 10 local entities who the US claims provided North Korea with materials used in its nuclear program, the US has decided to act. In an unprecedented step, the Treasury Department slapped financial sanctions on two Chinese nationals and a Chinese shipping company over their ties to North Korea stemming from its nuclear program, according to Reuters.
The Trump administration also proposed sanctions against a Chinese bank for helping North Korea launder money and cut the institution off from the US financial system, in a major step that at least on the surface, is aimed at convincing China to put more pressure on Pyongyang to abandon its missile and nuclear programs, according to the Financial Times. The US Treasury designated the bank in question, the Bank of Dandong, as a “foreign bank of primary money laundering concern” and also imposed sanctions on two Chinese individuals and one Chinese company.
The Treasury Department said in a statement it was sanctioning Wei Sun for links to the Foreign Trade Bank of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Hong Ri Li for his links to North Korean banking executive Song-hyok Ri, as well as the Dalian Global Unity Shipping Co Ltd of Dalian, China.
The moves come one week after top US and Chinese officials met for strategic talks in Washington in which the US side tried to persuade China to take more action on North Korea. Steven Mnuchin, Treasury secretary, said the US was “sending an emphatic message across the globe that we will not hesitate to take action against persons, companies, and financial institutions who enable this [North Korean] regime.”
Dennis Wilder, the former top White House adviser to George W. Bush, said the moves were a “major decision” that had been under consideration for some time, but had been held off because of sensitivities in China, which is opposed to what the US terms secondary sanctions.
“It should not come as a surprise to Beijing as the Trump administration has repeatedly signaled that if China did not do more to shut down entities violating the UN Security Council resolutions, Washington would have to act unilaterally,” said Mr Wilder.“The question going forward is whether it will spur Beijing to do more to enforce the sanctions or cause Beijing to reduce cooperation on North Korea.”
Evan Medeiros, a former top Asia official in the Obama administration now at the Eurasia Group, said the Trump administration was “crossing an important threshold and signaling to Beijing how serious they are about the North Korea threat.”
The news comes after the Trump administration scored a minor victory when the Chinese government said it agreed on the need for complete dismantling of the North Korean nuclear program, though Trump has repeatedly complained about the ongoing efforts to coax China into doing more to curb the country’s nuclear ambitions.
And now we await China’s response to what the local media will promptly brand a belligerent act by the US. Making things especially awkward, Trump will meet with China’s president XI in just a few days, during next week’s G-20 summit in Germany.