The United States has imposed sanctions on Chinese and Russian companies for violating the trade restrictions on North Korea. The move highlights President Donald Trump’s strategy to keep tightening the screws on Pyongyang over its nuclear program.

The Treasury Department blacklisted a Russian port agency and two Chinese firms on Wednesday for aiding North Korea’s shipping industry.

The Chinese shipping companies made more than $1 billion in a year through the exports of North Korean goods, Hong Kong-based newspaper South China Morning Post disclosed. The Russian port agency provided services to sanctioned North Korean-flagged ships at several Russian ports.

“Treasury will continue to implement existing sanctions on North Korea, and will take action to block and designate companies, ports, and vessels that facilitate illicit shipments and provide revenue streams to the DPRK,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Wednesday. “Consequences for violating these sanctions will remain in place until we have achieved the final, fully verified denuclearization of North Korea,” he added.

Chinese daily South China Morning Post reported details of the latest round of North Korea-related sanctions:

The Treasury accused China-based Dalian Sun Moon Star International Logistics Trading Co and its Singapore-based affiliate, SINSMS Pte., of falsifying documents to facilitate shipments of alcohol and cigarettes to North Korea.

Those shipments helped fuel what the Treasury alleged was a huge “illicit” cigarette trade earning the Pyongyang regime US$1 billion a year.

It also blacklisted Russia-based Profinet Pte. for violating UN sanctions by providing port services like loading and refuelling to sanctioned North Korean-flagged ships at three eastern Russia ports.

Also named was Profinet director general Vasili Aleksandrovich Kolchanov, whom the Treasury said “was personally involved” in deals with the North Koreans.

“Treasury reminds the shipping industry, including flag states, ship owners and operators, crew members and captains, insurance companies, brokers, oil companies, ports, classification service providers, and others of the significant risks posed by North Korea’s shipping practices,” the Treasury said in a statement.

The US Treasury’s move comes less than two months after President Donald Trump met with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un at a summit in Singapore, which resulted in a diplomatic thaw in relations between the two Koreas. Though Pyongyang agreed to halt its nuclear program and missile tests, Trump’s administration insists that economic sanctions will remain in place until the regime fully dismantles its nuclear and missile programs.

China and Russia have long been on Washington’s radar over the breach of North Korea sanctions. In July, US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley directly called out both of the countries while stressing the need to keep up the pressure on the Communist dictatorship. Beijing and Moscow “want to go around the rules” to aid North Korea and risk derailing negotiations over the regime’s nuclear program, Ambassador Haley said.

Given the authoritarian structures prevalent in these two countries, it is highly improbable that private sector players had been operating without the connivance or tacit approval of the ruling establishment. Besides minor economic gains, Beijing and Moscow could be hoping to drag the US into protracted negotiations with Pyongyang, diverting Washington’s attention away from their unfair trade practices and territorial expansionism.

Unlike the Obama administration’s approach to the Iran nuclear deal, the Trump administration won’t be offering any economic concessions or sanctions relief to the North Korean regime until it follows through on the promises of denuclearization made at the Singapore summit. There won’t be a plane delivery of millions of dollar in cash, like the Mullahs in Tehran got from the Obama administration. With Trump in office, North Korea’s “rocket man” won’t be getting anything from Washington until he dismantles his prized collection of nuclear weapons.


[Cover image via YouTube]