On Thursday, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced new sanctions against Chinese entities, bringing new pressure to bear against North Korea’s missile and nuclear weapons programs.
“We are in no way targeting China with these actions,” Mnuchin assured reporters at the White House. “We are committed to targeting North Korea’s external enablers and maximizing pressure on the North Korean regime.”
It will be interesting to learn if Beijing sees it that way. One of the sanctions the Treasury Secretary announced cuts the Chinese Bank of Dandong off from the American financial system, a “very significant” action against what Mnuchin described as “North Korea’s external enabler.”
The Bank of Dandong supposedly stopped doing business with North Korea after the Obama administration took action against several other Chinese entities accused of laundering North Korean money in the fall of 2016. Presumably, their good behavior did not last, if they ever really did stop working with Pyongyang.
Mnuchin said on Thursday that the Bank of Dandong “has served as a gateway for North Korea to access the U.S. and international financial systems, facilitating millions of dollars of transactions for companies involved in North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs.”
“The United States will not stand for such action,” Mnuchin declared.
The Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control also named the Dalian Global Unity Shipping Company and two Chinese individuals, Sun Wei and Li Hong Ri, as targets for sanctions.
Shipping companies operating in the Dalian seaport have long been viewed as a conduit for delivering luxury goods to North Korea’s elites, providing them with a steady supply of everything from big-screen TVs to fine automobiles, to ensure the international sanctions regime does not personally affect their lifestyles. According to Bloomberg News, Dalian Global Unity Shipping was involved in transporting coal and steel from China to North Korea.
Sun Wei was sanctioned for links to the Foreign Trade Bank of the DPRK, while Li Hong Ri is said to be tied to a major North Korean banking executive.
The timing of the new sanctions is significant, coming less than two weeks after the death of Otto Warmbier, the American student held hostage by North Korea and returned in a coma, a week after President Donald Trump publicly expressed disappointment with the amount of help China has given with North Korea, and just hours before Trump is scheduled to meet with South Korean President Moon Jae-in.
“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,” former Bush White House adviser Dennis Wilder told the Financial Times.
“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,” Wilder added.