By MATTHEW PENNINGTON
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration slapped sanctions Wednesday on North Korean financial and business networks in China and Russia as it pushed to cut off revenues for the increasingly isolated nation’s nuclear and missile programs.
The Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control also targeted five North Korean shipping companies and six of its vessels. That’s part of an intensified effort by Washington to interdict ships that help the North evade sanctions.
The sanctions have been tightened significantly in the past year as Kim Jong Un’s government accelerates toward perfecting a nuclear weapon that can threaten the U.S. mainland. While Beijing and Moscow have supported U.N. restrictions, they bristle at Washington imposing unilateral sanctions to bolster the pressure campaign.
The intensification of the U.S.-led campaign is a counterpoint to a thaw in relations between North and South Korea revolving around the North’s participation in next month’s Winter Olympics being hosted by the South. That has eased tensions on the divided peninsula, but the North shows no sign it’s willing to negotiate over its nuclear program.
“The U.S. government is targeting illicit actors in China, Russia, and elsewhere who are working on behalf of North Korean financial networks, and calling for their expulsion from the territories where they reside,” Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said in a statement. Americans are barred from dealing with those who are designated.
Among those blacklisted were 10 representatives in China and Russia of the Korea Ryonbong General Corporation, which is already designated by the United States and the United Nations and is said to support the North’s defense industry. The Treasury Department said the company’s procurements also probably support North Korea’s chemical weapons program.
Half of the individuals are located in the Chinese cities of Dandong, Ji’an, Linjiang and Tumen near the China-North Korea border. Others are based in Russia and Abkhazia, a breakaway province of Georgia. They include, Kim Ho Kyu, said to be a Ryonbong representative and North Korean vice consul in Nakhodka, Russia.
The Treasury Department also designated five individuals it said were linked to North Korean financial networks, and pointedly highlighted that several of them held accounts at Chinese banks.
North Korea conducts most of its trade through its northern neighbor China, and is believed to rely on banks and companies in that country to connect with the international financial system.
The department added to its blacklist two China-based companies, Beijing Chengxing Trading Co. Ltd. and Dandong Jinxiang Trade Co., Ltd. It said that between 2013 and 2017, the two companies cumulatively exported over $68 million worth of goods to North Korea and imported more than $19 million of goods from North Korea.
Also designated were North Korea’s ministry responsible for crude oil and Hana Electronics JVC, one of North Korea’s only electronics companies.
The sanctions imposed on North Korean shipping are the latest in a slew of restrictions the U.S. has declared against North Korean shipping companies. The administration is pressing China, Russia and other countries to prevent vessels from conducting illicit ship-to-ship transfers of oil and other cargo.
CIA Director Mike Pompeo said Tuesday that through the agency’s efforts, the U.S. government has improved its ability to interdict shipments into North Korea. He warned that the North was moving “ever closer” to putting Americans at risk and that he believes Kim won’t rest until he’s able to threaten multiple nuclear attacks against the U.S. at the same time.