The US Treasury Department has announced new financial sanctions against a group of North Korean nationals living in China for their alleged role in aiding Pyongyang’s illegal weapons programs.
The sanctions come a day after North Korea conducted its latest test of a “hysonic” missile, in violation of UN Security Council resolutions. It was the nuclear-armed country’s second such test in a week.
“Today’s actions, part of the United States’ ongoing efforts to counter the DPRK’s weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs, target the continued use of overseas representatives to illegally procure weapons goods” , said Brian Nelson, the US Undersecretary of the United States of America. Treasury of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, with an acronym for the country’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
Do you have questions about the biggest topics and trends from around the world? Get the answers with SCMP knowledge, our new platform of curated content with explanations, FAQs, analytics and infographics, delivered by our award-winning team.
“The DPRK’s latest missile launches are further evidence that it continues to promote banned programs despite the international community’s calls for diplomacy and denuclearization,” Nelson said.
The four sanctioned men worked in the Chinese cities of Dalian and Shenyang to purchase supplies that would help the north build its nuclear weapons program, the finance ministry said.
All were affiliated with North Korea’s Second Academy of Natural Sciences (SANS), an organization described by the UN as a “national-level organization responsible for research and development of the DPRK’s advanced weapon systems, including missiles and missiles.” probably nuclear weapons”.
SANS was sanctioned ten years ago by the US and in 2013 by the UN Security Council.
The Ministry of Finance said North Korean nationals living in China had been working on behalf of “SANS subordinate organizations” to purchase steel alloys, software, chemicals and other goods from Chinese companies.
At a State Department press conference on Wednesday, spokesman Ned Price ignored a question as to why the US had also not imposed sanctions on Chinese companies that may have been doing business with the North Koreans.
The Chinese embassy in Washington did not respond to a request for comment about the sanctions.
Under the new measures, the said individuals will be cut off from the US financial system, and anyone doing business with them could also be put on an additional blacklist.
The sanctions also target a North Korean national living in the far-eastern Russian city of Vladivostok who allegedly worked to purchase telecommunications-related equipment from Russia for North Korean companies. He was also affiliated with the SANS, the Treasury Department said.
Two other individuals in Moscow — a North Korean, a Russian — and a Russian organization called Parsek LLC were also added to the U.S. State Department’s sanctions list Wednesday “for being involved in activities or transactions that materially contributed to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction or their means of delivery by the DPRK”.
In a statement, Foreign Secretary Antony Blinken said they had been working to move items from Russia to North Korea “with ballistic missile applications,” including aviation oil, ball bearings, Kevlar thread and instructions for making solid rocket fuel mixtures. The North Korean citizen in Moscow also worked to purchase stainless steel pipes and aramid fibers on behalf of Pyongyang’s Rocket Industry division, Blinken said.
Their relationship “is an important source of missile-ready goods and technology for the DPRK’s missile program,” Blinken said.
North Korea’s recent missile tests are part of the country’s efforts to expand and upgrade its weapons arsenal amid lingering tensions and stalled diplomacy with Washington.
The first test launch of the “hysonic” rocket took place last September.
Kim Jong-un, the country’s leader, attended the most recent test on Tuesday, according to North Korea’s state news agency — his first official presence at a missile launch in two years.
After the test, Kim huddled with the hypersonic weapons research and development team, “with great expectation and belief that they would help bolster the country’s war deterrence,” the state news agency said.
The South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff said the missile had flown more than 700 kilometers (435 miles), reaching a top speed of 10 times the speed of sound, South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency reported.
The tests also come at a difficult time for the region – just over three weeks before the Beijing Winter Olympics begin, and two months before South Korea’s upcoming presidential election.
Pyongyang last week said it would not send athletes to the Olympics due to the coronavirus pandemic and “hostile forces” – meaning the US.
One of the North’s highest demands was that the US lift all sanctions that have strained the country’s economy in recent years. Washington says Pyongyang must first end its nuclear weapons program.
Sue Mi Terry, a former US intelligence officer who has served in the CIA and the National Security Council, called the new sanctions announced on Wednesday “the right move” — but added that North Korea still didn’t seem to be high on the agenda. standing by the White House, with China, Russia and Iran taking precedence.
“The Biden administration has said it is willing to meet with the North Koreans at any time without conditions, but Kim Jong-un has expressed no interest in meeting,” said Terry, now director of the Center. for Korean History and Public Policy at the Center for Korean History and Public Policy. Wilson Center, a Washington think tank.
“The administration doesn’t have many other options,” she said. “It must remain calm and continue with sanctions and deterrence.”
But she added: “The downside, of course, is that North Korea is expanding and diversifying its weapons of mass destruction arsenal — and there’s not much the US can do about it.”
Additional reporting by Owen Churchill
More from South China Morning Post: