President Donald Trump’s administration followed through on a threat to punish Chinese firms and individuals for doing business with North Korea, imposing sanctions on two Chinese citizens and a shipping company for helping to underwrite the North Korean government. It also accused a Chinese bank of laundering money for Pyongyang.
The sanctions were announced by the Treasury Department Thursday afternoon. It named the Bank of Dandong, located in a northeastern Chinese city on the North Korean border, and Dalian Global Unity Shipping Co Ltd.; the two individuals are Sun Wei and Li Hong Ri. Sun was sanctioned for working for the Foreign Trade Bank, North Korea’s state export bank, while Li was targeted for opening front companies that work with the North Korean government.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the sanctions are meant to pressure Kim Jong Un to drop his nuclear weapons program, and were not meant as a shot at China, which Trump has repeatedly urged to do more to rein in its wayward client state.
“The United States is sending an emphatic message across the globe that we will not hesitate to take action against persons, companies and financial institutions who enable this regime,” Mnuchin said in a statement.
The announcement comes as Trump prepares to meet South Korean President Moon Jae-in at the White House on Thursday to discuss steps to rein in North Korea. In recent months, Pyongyang has made advances in long-range missile technology.
Last week, Chinese and American officials met to discuss what Beijing — North Korea’s only major ally — could do to deter Kim from continuing his work. At the time, Trump tweeted that he appreciated Chinese President Xi Jinping’s efforts but “it has not worked out.”
Even as specific Chinese entities were mentioned, Mnuchin insisted the penalties were not about Beijing. “We are in no way targeting China with these efforts. We appreciate their work and hope they will continue to work with us,” the Treasury chief said Thursday. He added that the two sides would meet at the G-20 summit in Germany next week.
The United States has been hinting at possible penalties against Chinese firms and individuals for months. In December of last year, Obama administration officials hinted they could come soon. In May and in recent days, Trump officials did the same thing.
Whether this signals a harder line on China more generally from the White House remains to be seen. On the campaign trail, Trump railed against China’s trade practices in particular, and even before taking office sparked a diplomatic spat with Beijing over Taiwan.
But after a surprisingly friendly visit with Xi in April, Trump changed his tune, and said he wouldn’t take any action to label China a currency manipulator, since he was hoping to secure Beijing’s help on North Korea.
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