WASHINGTON (AP) — The United States reserves the right to punish Chinese companies that violate U.N. sanctions on North Korea if Chinese authorities don't take action, a senior U.S. official said Wednesday.
Top U.S. diplomat for East Asia, Daniel Russel, said that since most of North Korea's illegal activities are conducted through neighboring China, companies are "going to have to tighten up and shut down operations." The U.S. is looking to cooperate with international partners in cutting revenue sources for the North's nuclear and missile programs.
North Korea has conducted two nuclear test explosions and more than 20 missile launches this year, intensifying concern that it is closer to having a nuclear-tipped missile that could reach America.
The Justice Department last month unsealed criminal charges against a China-based company, Dandong Hongxiang Industrial Development Company, and four of its executives for conspiring to evade sanctions, and the Treasury Department barred them from business dealings with the U.S. Chinese authorities have also said they were investigating Hongxiang on suspicion of unspecified "serious economic crimes."
"To the extent that the Chinese authorities themselves take action against North Korea malefactors or Chinese companies that are collaborating with North Korea then there's no cause for action by the United States or others," Russel told reporters.
"Where they don't take action, the United States reserves the right under U.N. Security Council resolution 2270 or under our own national authorities to take action," he said, referring to the most recent sanctions resolution against North Korea, adopted in March.
Russel said while there's "frustration and differences of view" between Washington and Beijing, they do cooperate on North Korea. The U.S. is constantly "scanning the horizon" for evidence of sanctions violations and makes a point of sharing with China first any information they have about "bad actors" there, he said.
China is the North's traditional ally and main trading partner. The U.S. is currently pushing for tighter U.N. sanctions that would impose additional restrictions on North Korea's exports of coal that account for about one-third of its export income and mostly go to China.
A succession of U.N. sanctions resolutions and U.S. sanctions have failed to stop North Korea's weapons development and to force it to return to negotiations on giving up its nuclear program in exchange for aid. The North argues that it needs nuclear weapons to deter a U.S. invasion. Russel called that "absurd."
He argued that the nuclear program has only diminished the security of North Korea and its dictatorial leader Kim Jong Un and hurt its diplomatic and economic standing.
"Put yourself in Kim Jong Un's place. That is not a good place to be. Perhaps he's got an enhanced capacity to conduct a nuclear attack and then immediately die. But that can't be plan A," Russel said.
The U.S. retains 28,000 troops in South Korea, a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War which ended without a formal peace treaty.