New US sanctions ‘won’t help’ cooperation on North Korea – China

China said Wednesday that new US sanctions targeting Chinese firms linked to North Korea “will not help” cooperation with Beijing in the nuclear crisis.

The US Treasury Department Tuesday slapped punitive measures on a series of Chinese and Russian individuals and companies, accusing them of supporting North Korea’s nuclear programme and trying to evade US sanctions.

President Donald Trump has pressed China to do more to persuade its ally North Korea to abandon its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes.

“The US action will not help the solution of the problem as well as the mutual trust and cooperation with China,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a regular news briefing.

“We urge the US side to stop this wrongdoing and correct it,” she said.

At the same time, Hua said the “extremely tense” situation on the Korean Peninsula “has shown some signs of abating” thanks to the concerted efforts of various parties, though it “remains highly complex and sensitive”.

She made the remark hours after US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson signalled that talks with the North might be possible “in the near future”.

Trump later said in a speech that North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un was “starting to respect” the United States.

Hua renewed Beijing’s call for peace talks and for North Korea and the US to “exercise restraint”.

“We also noted that many country leaders also said the Korean peninsula issue should be peacefully resolved and the call for dialogue, peace and deescalation, rather than confrontation, war and mutual provocation, represents the common voice of the international community.”

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Tensions have eased since Kim pulled back from a plan to send a salvo of missiles towards the US Pacific territory of Guam.

But Pyongyang Wednesday disclosed significant technological advances in its missile programmes and ambitious plans to further improve its capabilities.

– Coal companies –

The new sanctions are part of a broader US effort to disrupt the flow of cash funding North Korean weapons programmes. They target companies that have dealt in natural resources such as coal and minerals or engaged in financial transactions for North Korean interests.

It is the second time since June that Washington has targeted Chinese entities linked to North Korea.

“It is unacceptable for individuals and companies in China, Russia and elsewhere to enable North Korea to generate income used to develop weapons of mass destruction and destabilise the region,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.

China backed new United Nations sanctions against North Korea earlier this month and announced last week that it was upholding them by banning imports of iron, iron ore and seafood from its neighbour.

Beijing had already suspended imports of North Korean coal in February.

The new US sanctions took aim at a half-dozen Chinese companies, including three — Dandong Zhicheng Metallic Materials Co Ltd, JinHou International Holding Co Ltd and Dandong Tianfu Trade Co Ltd — that Washington said had collectively imported nearly a half billion dollars’ worth of North Korean coal between 2013 and 2016.

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The Treasury Department also sanctioned Dandong Zhicheng’s director Chi Yupeng, a Chinese national accused of moving cash for North Korean interests.

People who answered the phone at Dandong Zhicheng and Dandong Tianfu Trade told AFP they were “unaware” of the situation and declined to comment. Calls placed to the other firms went unanswered.

The US sanctions also target Dandong Rich Earth Trading Co Ltd, which the United States says has acted on behalf of North Korea’s General Bureau of Atomic Energy — responsible for its nuclear programme — and has eased banned North Korean exports of vanadium ore.

Another company, Mingzheng International Trading Limited, which maintains offices in Hong Kong and mainland China, was in fact a front for the Foreign Trade Bank, North Korea’s main foreign exchange bank, the Treasury Department said.

In late June the Treasury Department imposed sanctions against the Bank of Dandong, severing it from the US financial system as it accused the bank of laundering North Korean cash.

The department also sanctioned two Chinese individuals said to have established front companies to ease financial transactions for North Korea, and a Chinese shipping company accused of helping smuggle banned luxury goods into the country.

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