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China denounces U.S. sanctions on North Korea trade

This undated picture released Aug. 23 by North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visiting the Chemical Material Institute (AFP/Getty Images)
This undated picture released Aug. 23 by North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visiting the Chemical Material Institute (AFP/Getty Images)

China on Wednesday denounced new U.S. sanctions linked to North Korea trade, accusing the Trump administration of “long-arm jurisdiction” that unfairly targets Chinese companies and threatens Beijing's cooperation in reining in the rogue state.

The Treasury Department on Tuesday slapped sanctions on 10 firms and six individuals, mostly from China and Russia. U.S. officials aim to sever economic ties that allow North Korea to advance its weapons program.

“We urge the U.S. side to stop this wrongdoing and correct this immediately,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters. 

The U.S. action follows a unanimous United Nations resolution last month to impose tougher sanctions on North Korea. The isolated nation recently tested its first two intercontinental ballistic missiles. 

The latest sanctions largely target companies that allegedly buy or sell resources, such as coal or metals, which could aid in nuclear weapons development. A Chinese company in Africa was sanctioned for enabling the hires of North Korean workers; one in northeastern China was accused of facilitating financial transactions on behalf of North Korea’s proliferation network.

The Chinese government insisted it implements the Security Council resolutions and would punish companies that violate sanctions. Earlier this month, China suspended imports of coal, iron and lead ores, and seafood products.

China opposes unilateral sanctions outside the Security Council, Hua said, especially “long-arm jurisdiction over Chinese entities and individuals." The U.S. actions “are not helpful in solving the problem and unhelpful to mutual trust and cooperation." 

The U.S. views China, North Korea’s economic lifeline, as key to preventing further missile development. China is responsible for about 90% of its neighbor’s international trade. And while Beijing has increased periodic bans on certain goods, its border has proved porous -- a quick drive over the Yalu River.

China fears Pyongyang’s economic collapse would trigger a refugee crisis on its border and a united, democratic Korea at its doorstep. It has repeatedly urged dialogue and negotiations.   

 “From the Chinese perspective, these sanctions are ridiculous because those enterprises engaged with North Korea before the Security Council resolution," said Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at Renmin University in Beijing. “China will not accept this kind of punishment.”

The U.S. government has long used sanctions as a tool against the hermit kingdom’s nuclear ambitions, but the Trump administration has increased its urgency as North Korea inches closer to developing weapons capable of reaching California.  

It's unclear, once again, whether they will work. An editorial by Chen Weihua, deputy editor of China Daily’s U.S. edition, said these so-called secondary sanctions would have no effect on North Korea. Instead, they will “undermine cooperation” between the world’s two largest economies.

America’s “past track records have shown that the majority of sanctions not only failed but caused humanitarian disasters in other countries,” he said.

U.S. officials stopped short of previous threats to sanction Chinese banks, suggesting they still anticipate Beijing’s help with Pyongyang.

“Trump’s China strategy is that everything relates to China’s behavior on North Korea,” Shi said. “This could spoil the Sino-American relationship. It already has.” 

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