WASHINGTON: The United States on Tuesday slapped sanctions on 16 Chinese and Russian individuals and companies, accusing them of supporting North Korea’s nuclear programme and attempting to evade US sanctions.
The sanctions are part of a broader US effort to disrupt the flow of cash funding North Korean weapon’s programmes and target companies that have dealt in natural resources such as coal and minerals or engaged in financial transactions for North Korean interests.
“It is unacceptable for individuals and companies in China, Russia, and elsewhere to enable North Korea to generate income used to develop weapons of mass destruction and destabilise the region,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.
The move follows a war of words between Washington and Pyongyang over recent missile tests that show North Korea is capable of reaching the US mainland.
President Donald Trump earlier this month said he would respond to North Korea’s nuclear threat with “fire and fury.” Also this month, Russia and China both voted to toughen UN sanctions on North Korea.
Trump has urged Beijing, North Korea’s only major ally, to bring greater pressure to bear in reigning in the reclusive state’s nuclear efforts, suggesting that the United States may offer concessions on trade in return.
The sanctions unveiled on Tuesday effectively block those targeted from accessing much of the global financial system and freeze any US assets as well.
Among those hit by the sanctions was Russian national Ruben Kirakosyan and his Moscow-based company Gefest-M LLC, which the Treasury Department accuses of procuring metals for a sanctions-barred company involved in North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme known as Korean Tangun Trading Corp.
Also targeted is China’s Dandong Rich Earth Trading Co. Ltd., which the United States says has acted on behalf of North Korea’s General Bureau of Atomic Energy — responsible for the North’s nuclear programme — and has facilitated prohibited North Korean exports of vanadium ore.
A third company, Mingzheng International Trading Limited, which maintains offices in Hong Kong and mainland China, was in fact a front for Foreign Trade Bank, North Korea’s main foreign exchange bank, the Treasury Department said.