The Treasury Department applied new sanctions Tuesday intended to squeeze North Korea even tighter. The sanctions were mostly against Chinese and Russian companies and individuals that the US accuses of conducting illegal business with Pyongyang and thus helping its nuclear weapons program, reports the Washington Post. The big hits were against Chinese firms that import about $500 million worth of coal from the North, as well as Russian firms that deliver oil to the nation, per Politico. Also of note: The US went after two companies that help North Korea with an unusual but lucrative business: building statues overseas. More on that and related coverage:
- Those statues: Yes, North Korea has found a niche in the statue-building biz, as a feature from the BBC explains. The statues are particularly popular in African nations, and the North gets them built by sending its laborers abroad. The new sanctions go after companies that smooth the process.
- The point: “It’s definitely a message to Beijing and Moscow they can’t continue to facilitate Pyongyang," a former senior Treasury official tells the Wall Street Journal. The same official—Anthony Ruggiero of the nonprofit Foundation for Defense of Democracies—echoed the point to the New York Times, saying the sanctions look "like the beginnings of a broad pressure campaign."
- China response: Soon after the Treasury's move, China responded with relatively strong language, even if in diplo-speak: "We strongly urge the US to immediately correct its mistake, so as not to impact bilateral cooperation on relevant issues," said a Chinese embassy spokesperson, per Reuters.
- War games: The sanctions come as the US and South Korea are conducting their annual military exercises, much to the chagrin of North Korea. The Los Angeles Times has details on what goes on. Of note: They generally don't involve live artillery and are instead confined to "command posts and computers" as leaders prep for quick responses to complex scenarios.
- Testy words at UN: US and North Korean envoys traded accusations at a UN forum Tuesday, reports the AP. American Robert Wood said the "path to dialogue still remains an option" but insisted that a "reckless" Pyongyang poses a threat to the world and warned that President Trump's top priority is keeping the US safe. The North Korean envoy in turn said the North had no choice but to develop its nuclear arsenal because of "hostile" behavior by the US.
- Shipments to Syria: Authorities intercepted two shipments from North Korea en route to the Syrian agency in charge of chemical weapons, reports Reuters. It's not clear what was in the shipments, but the report is in the hands of the UN Security Council.
- Threat to Australia: After North Korea warned Australia that it would be "suicidal" to help the US in any conflict or participate in military exercises with them, the Australian prime minister has asked all nations to "redouble" efforts to rein in the North, reports news.com.au.
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