As US President Donald Trump will be hosting Chinese President Xi Jinping for their first summit later this week, the US government is putting pressure on Beijing to do its due role to resolve North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats.
Last week, the US government announced new sanctions against North Korea, the first of their kind by the Trump administration. The announcement of the fresh sanctions came two days after the House Foreign Affairs Committee passed a set of bipartisan bills on North Korea, including those calling for harsher sanctions on Pyongyang, relisting it as a state sponsor of terrorism and demanding China to stop its retaliation against South Korea over its decision to host a US missile defense system.
The actions taken in Washington are timely in that they came at a time when reports point to the possibility of a sixth nuclear test by North Korea and Xi was preparing for his talks with Trump in Florida.
South Korean and US intelligence officials and media have been reporting that recent activities at the North’s nuclear facilities show the possibility of an impending nuclear test. The North also has been threatening to launch an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of hitting the US mainland.
The fresh US sanctions reflect the US resolve to get tough on Pyongyang to thwart any such provocations. The punitive action was highlighted by blacklisting a North Korean trading firm and 11 individuals suspected of being involved in the country’s weapons of mass destruction programs and other illicit activities.
US officials made the purpose of the new sanctions clear. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said that the sanctions are aimed at disrupting the networks and methods North Korea employs to fund its nuclear, ballistic missile and proliferation programs.
Officials said Paeksol Trading Corp. has traded North Korean coal and minerals, a key source of foreign currencies part of which is diverted to finance its military programs like for nuclear and missile development.
What’s noteworthy is that the measure targets coal, which accounts for about 30 percent of the North’s exports. It is against this backdrop that the UN Security Council -- in punishment of the North’s fifth nuclear test last September -- had imposed a limit on the total amount of coal it can export each year.
The 11 North Korean individuals named by the US blacklist work for trading firms and banks that have already been sanctioned for their involvement in military supplies and financing of the Kim Jong-un regime.
The Treasury Department said the action targets North Korean nationals working as agents of the regime in Russia, China, Vietnam and Cuba to provide financial support or weapons of mass destruction procurement services for UN- or US-designated and sanctioned entities.
The fact that the 11 individuals are based in four countries -- all maintaining close relations with the North -- should serve as a reminder that efforts to stop the North’s nuclear and missile provocations cannot succeed without the cooperation of those countries.
Secretary Mnuchin emphasized the point, saying all US partners and allies should take similar measures to cut off the North’s funding.
China, the only remaining ally of the North and its largest economic benefactor, tops the list of countries whose role is crucial in curbing the North’s nuclear and missile programs.
In an interview published by the Financial Times on Monday, Trump gave what seemed to be an ultimatum to Xi, saying the US will tackle North Korea “on its own” if Chinese refuses to help rein in the North.
He said that China will decide to help us with North Korea or they won’t. “If they do, that will be very good for China, and if they don’t, it won’t be good for anyone.”
Indeed, there is so much is at stake for many and Xi should make the right choice.