World

New US sanctions on North Korea ships, Chinese traders

WASHINGTON The US on Tuesday unveiled new sanctions targeting North Korean shipping and Chinese traders doing business with Pyongyang, again raising the pressure on the pariah state to abandon its nuclear programme. The measures came a day after President Donald Trump declared North Korea a state sponsor of terrorism.

"These designations include companies that have engaged in trade with North Korea cumulatively worth hundreds of millions of dollars," US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said.

"We are also sanctioning the shipping and transportation companies, and their vessels, that facilitate North Korea's trade and its deceptive manoeuvres."

On Monday, Mr Trump had said the sanctions announcement would be the first in a series of moves over the next two weeks that would reinforce his "maximum pressure campaign" against Kim Jong-Un's regime.

As had been expected, the Treasury measures make use of existing US directives against North Korean trade, but expand their scope to take in more companies and individuals.

Most importantly, they expand the list of Chinese firms accused of doing business with the North despite promises from Beijing that it will honour UN-backed punitive measures.

Mr Trump met China's President Xi Jinping earlier this month and is bullish about the US-China relationship, but concerns remain that Beijing is not ready to take tough measures against Kim.

In particular, China has been reluctant to cut off oil supplies through a pipeline to North Korea's lone refinery, fearing that regime collapse could lead to chaos on their common border.

According to US officials, some Chinese-based banks and trading firms continue to do business with the North in defiance of UN sanctions and US threats of unilateral measures.

"We still hope all relevant parties can contribute to easing tensions," Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said after the US terror designation. "More should be done in that regard."

China has pushed for a "dual track approach" which would see the US freeze its military drills in South Korea while North Korea would halt its weapons programmes.

Washington has rejected that approach. According to Mr Mnuchin, the sanctions would not only increase Pyongyang's isolation but also expose "its evasive tactics."- AFP

WORLD