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U.S. slaps sanctions on more Chinese, Russians

Aug 24,2017
Less than a month after U.S. President Donald Trump signed into law a bill that strengthened sanctions against North Korea, Russia and Iran, the U.S. Treasury Department placed 10 more entities and six individuals on its North Korea sanctions list Tuesday, accusing them of financing the regime’s weapons of mass destruction.

In a sign of further diplomatic muscle-flexing, the list primarily targeted companies and nationals of China and Russia, Pyongyang’s staunchest allies.

The Treasury Department will “continue to increase pressure on North Korea by targeting those who support the advancement of nuclear and ballistic missile programs, and isolating them from the American financial system,” Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin said in a statement.

Mnuchin continued that it was “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 destabilize the region.

“We are taking actions consistent with UN sanctions,” he said, “to show that there are consequences for defying sanctions and providing support to North Korea, and to deter this activity in the future.”

North Korea, which slammed the U.S. earlier this month for leading UN Security Council discussions on a sanctions package that is expected to cut a third of Pyongyang’s annual international trade revenue, did not immediately respond to the Treasury Department’s decision.

The sanctions target companies and individuals that assist already-designated persons who support North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs, deal in the North Korean energy trade, facilitate its exportation of workers and enable sanctioned North Korean entities to access the U.S. and international financial systems, the department said.

As a result, Americans are prohibited from doing business with the designated people and companies. Any property or interests in property owned or controlled by an American, or owned or controlled by a non-American within the United Stations, must be blocked as well.

Among 10 companies sanctioned, five were based in China, one in Russia and two each in Singapore and Namibia. Among the six individuals, one was Chinese, four were Russians and one was North Korean.

China-based Dandong Rich Earth Trading allegedly supported Korea Kumsan Trading Corporation, a company that was already designated by the UN and U.S. as having links with North Korea’s nuclear program, by purchasing vanadium ore.

China and Hong Kong-based Mingzheng International Trading Limited was sanctioned for acting as a front company for Foreign Trade Bank, North Korea’s primary foreign exchange bank, which was accused by the UN of facilitating transactions on behalf of North Korea, the Treasury Department said.

Three Chinese coal companies were held responsible for doing business with North Korea, while Gfest-M LLC, based in Moscow, and its director, a Russian national named Ruben Kirakosyan, allegedly supported a North Korean trading company that’s involved in the regime’s weapons programs.

Both Beijing and Moscow fumed, releasing separate statements urging Washington to draw back the unilateral sanctions.

Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov of Russia said the “lip service from American representatives about the desire to stabilize bilateral relations is extremely unconvincing,” according to excerpts reported by Russia’s state-run news agency RT.

“We have always and will always support resolving our existing differences through dialogue,” Ryabkov said, adding, “In recent years, Washington in theory should have learned that for us the language of sanctions is unacceptable, and the solutions to real problems are only hindered by such actions.”

In a statement released Tuesday by the Chinese Embassy in Washington, Beijing said it opposed unilateral sanctions outside the UN Security Council framework tackling Chinese entities and individuals, saying any transgression of UN sanctions linked with China would be dealt with by its domestic law.

“We strongly urge the U.S. to immediately correct its mistake, so as not to impact bilateral cooperation on relevant issues,” the statement read, according to the China Daily.

South Korea’s Foreign Ministry didn’t make an official statement on the matter, but officials told local media on background that Seoul welcomed the measure and hoped it led to North Korea’s denuclearization.

BY LEE SUNG-EUN [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]