WASHINGTON • The Trump administration has asked China to act against several Chinese entities suspected of doing illicit business with North Korea, United States Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has said.
North Korean ally China is the "capstone" of an international pressure campaign to hold North Korea to account for rogue missile and nuclear development, Mr Tillerson said during his testimony on Wednesday before the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
But Mr Tillerson was explicit that Washington also believes that Chinese businesses and individuals are helping North Korea evade a yoke of international sanctions.
"Our expectations have been very clear with the Chinese. Their cooperation, I would say, has been notable, but it has been uneven," Mr Tillerson said. "We continue that dialogue with the Chinese, specifically around their actions that support revenue streams to North Korea, but also taking action against entities inside of China that may be supporting revenue streams as well," he added.
The Wall Street Journal reported this week that the Trump administration has given China a list of about 10 such suspect entities and has demanded action.
Mr Tillerson appeared to confirm that report and added that Chinese compliance would be a central topic during meetings he will have with Defence Secretary Jim Mattis and their Chinese counterparts next week in Washington.
"We have provided them a list of entities that we believe they need to take action against," he said. "President Trump has also been very clear with President Xi that if they either don't want to take the action or they do not take the action, we will act on our own."
Chinese diplomats recently worked alongside the US to approve additional new United Nations Security Council sanctions.
Mr Tillerson also told the committee hearing that Russia's position on North Korea was evolving and that Washington would be looking for more support from Moscow.
American officials and lawmakers are increasingly concerned that Russia is stepping up trade with North Korea in defiance of international sanctions, jeopardising a US effort to pressure Pyongyang over its nuclear and missile programmes.
Russia appeared to be filling a gap left after China began to scale back some trade with North Korea in response to pressure from the Trump administration, and has already replaced China as the top supplier of jet fuel for North Korea.
Moscow also signed an agreement in March with Pyongyang to import more North Korean workers and opened a ferry line last month out of Vladivostok that carries passengers and cargo to the deeply isolated regime.
Mr Go Myong Hyun, a research fellow at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies, a Seoul-based think-tank, said Moscow's support is unlikely to make up for what Beijing supplies.
Trade between China and North Korea continues to dwarf the economic relationship between North Korea and Russia. China accounts for 90 per cent of North Korea's foreign trade, and is worth roughly US$6.1 billion (S$8.4 billion). Russia's trade with Pyongyang comes to just US$84 million.
WASHINGTON POST, REUTERS