China slams new US sanctions on North Korea

Enacting unilateral sanctions risks harming cooperation on the issue, says Beijing

BEIJING • China reacted with anger yesterday to new US sanctions aimed at increasing pressure on nuclear-equipped North Korea, saying the unilateral targeting of Chinese firms and people risked harming cooperation on the problem.

The United States said last Friday that it was imposing its largest package of sanctions aimed at getting North Korea to give up its nuclear and missile programmes, and President Donald Trump warned of a "phase two" that could be "very, very unfortunate for the world" if the steps did not work.

The new sanctions came as senior US officials said the Trump administration and key Asian allies are preparing to expand the interceptions of ships suspected of violating sanctions on North Korea, a plan that could include deploying US Coast Guard forces to stop and search vessels in Asia-Pacific waters.

Washington has been talking to regional partners, including Japan, South Korea, Australia and Singapore, about coordinating a stepped-up crackdown that would go further than ever before in an attempt to squeeze Pyongyang's use of sea-going trade to feed its nuclear missile programme, several officials told Reuters.

The US Treasury sanctioned one person, 27 companies and 28 ships linked to the North Korean shipping trade, and urged the United Nations to blacklist a list of entities. It said the move was aimed at shutting down North Korea's illicit maritime smuggling activities to obtain oil and sell coal.

The US Treasury said the sanctions also are aimed at ships located, registered or flagged in North Korea, China, Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Marshall Islands, Tanzania, Panama and the Comoros.

In a terse statement, China's Foreign Ministry said the government had always fully and thoroughly enforced UN resolutions on North Korea, and absolutely did not allow any of its citizens or companies to contravene them.

China will "seriously handle" in accordance with the law those found to have done so, it added.

"China resolutely opposes the US side enacting unilateral sanctions and 'long-armed jurisdiction' in accordance with its domestic law against Chinese entities or individuals," the ministry said.

"We have already lodged stern representations with the US side about this issue, and demand the US side immediately stop such relevant mistaken actions to avoid harming bilateral cooperation in the relevant area," it added, without elaborating.

China has repeatedly expressed opposition to any sanctions against North Korea not done within the framework of the UN, and insisted it is fully enforcing the existing - and already very tough - sanctions.

Responding to queries by The Sunday Times on the new US sanctions on North Korea, also known as the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Singapore takes its international obligations under the UN Security Council resolutions, including those pertaining to cargo inspection, "seriously and is implementing them assiduously. In so doing, we work closely with the UN Panel of Experts on the DPRK and partners such as the US".

It said "Singapore has continuously stepped-up our counter-proliferation efforts" and "where there is credible information of DPRK-linked cargoes transhipping through or transiting in Singapore, Singapore will conduct checks on these cargoes. Where there are grounds to do so, we have detained them".

As for the US-led high seas crackdown on North Korea sanction evaders, US officials told Reuters that the strategy calls for closer tracking and possible seizure of ships suspected of carrying banned weapons components and other prohibited cargo to or from North Korea.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 25, 2018, with the headline 'China slams new US sanctions on North Korea'. Print Edition | Subscribe